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Neitzche’s Ideas Applied To Baldwin’s Life Essay, Research Paper

In Nietzsche’s essay “The Use and Abuse of History,” people are inserted into three categories. These are the “unhistorical”, who live entirely in the present and are unaware of past situations and future consequences, the “superhistorical” who believe all events are random and have nothing to be learned from them, and the “historical” who use the past to guide them for the future. The historical are also split into three sub-categories. The “monumentalists,” who focus only on the good things of the past and therefore have a false sense of pride about themselves, the “antiquarians,” who are convinced that the past is better than the present and feel an obligation to make things how they were before, and finally, the “critical,” who endlessly interrogate the past to find out what went wrong and then destroy it. “Notes of a Native Son,” by James Baldwin, is a memoir of the time his father died and the confusing feelings he experienced at the time.

In “Notes of a Native Son,” many of Nietzche’s ideas can be applied. Baldwin starts his essay with the death of his father who is an antiquarian historian. His father is focused on his past situations with white people and is very reluctant to let go of his memories. Baldwin states that his father warned him that, “…my white friends in high school were not really my friends and that I would see, when I was older, how white people would do anything to keep a Negro down. Some of them could be nice, he admitted, but none of them were to be trusted.” This stubborn view of whites shows how unwilling his father was to change.

Baldwin, however, is a critical historian. He is attached to the hatred of his father and of whites. But he cannot act on his hatred. Though he might want to, he sees all to clearly what the consequences of his actions might be and so is unable to act. For him to act, he must have an unhistorical moment in which he forgets about all past and all consequences. He had this moment one night with his friend after seeing a movie. He decided to enter a diner he knew he wouldn’t be served at and upon hearing the waitress tell him so, he launched a water mug towards her which shattered on the wall behind her. Once he realized what had happened and what might happen to him, he bolted. His friend managed to misdirect the angry mob that followed.

Hatred is a big theme in Baldwin’s essay. He is unable to let go of the hatred he has for his father and the prejudice of whites that he tries to fight, but eventually comes to realize is there in New Jersey. He eventually realizes that hatred is what destroyed his father and is what will eventually destroy him.


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