‘Exodus’ by James Baldwin

Baldwin, James 1952

Exodus by James Baldwin, 1952

The magic trick:

Using a biblical comparison to complicate an already complicated situation

In “Exodus,” a young woman is ready to leave her childhood home, tired of the racism, lechery, and deadends in her southern town. Only thing is, her mother is on her deathbed. Can she wait? Should she wait? Will she wait?

Normally, this would be more than enough drama to drive a story. Baldwin, however, isn’t satisfied. He expands the story’s reach by bringing in the Bible, and, boy, do the waters muddy.

The dying mother relied on Moses and the exodus story of the Old Testamant to help her survive slavery. It has been the bedrock of her life. Yet she can’t fathom why her daughter is seeking to escape her own brand of bondage.

It’s a nasty bit of irony and gives the reader a whole lot to think about. And that’s quite a trick on Baldwin’s part.

The selection:

Yet, she told her children, God was just, and He struck no people without first giving many warnings. God gave men time, but all the events were in His hand, and, one day, the time to forsake evil and do good would all be finished: then only the whirlwind, death riding on the whirlwind, awaited those people who had forgotten God. In all the days that she was growing up, signs failed not, but none heeded.

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