‘This Morning, This Evening, So Soon’ by James Baldwin

Baldwin, James 1960

This Morning, This Evening, So Soon by James Baldwin, 1960

The magic trick:

Jumping between present, past, and future to reflect the story’s ideas about time and identity

Time, place, and identity loom large over this story, so it makes sense that Baldwin jumbles up all three elements throughout the unfolding of the narration. Our narrator, a nightclub singer who is moving back to the United States after 12 years in Paris, discusses a morning and evening in the present tense. But he also bounces back and forth between different memories from his past in America and France, all the while anticipating his feelings about adapting to an uncertain future. Some of it has a tendency to ramble, and I’m not sure some of the racial comparisons and contrasts always add up, but the point is made clear: one’s sense of identity is a complex thing, especially for an African-American expatriate in the 1950s. And that’s quite a trick on Baldwin’s part.

The selection:

Once I had been an expert at baffling these people, at setting their teeth on edge, and dancing just outside the trap laid for me. But I was not an expert now. These faces were no longer merely the faces of two white men, who were my enemies. They were the faces of two white men in accordance with what I knew of their cowardice and their needs and their strategy.

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