Nobody Knows My Name James Baldwin Analysis Essay

James Baldwin, Nobody Knows My Name: More Notes of a Native Son (Dial Press, 1961)
Reissued by Vintage in paperback in 1993.

James Baldwin left segregated America for Europe to escape the volatile climate of race relations in the U.S. He eventually came to find that his identity as a black man was inescapably linked to his identity as an American. The essays that make up Nobody Knows My Name are a reflection of that realization. Baldwin expounds on the American identity as well as complex themes like racism, colonialism, and the ghettoization of urban blacks.

In all of his essays, Baldwin places himself in the midst of the action � a conference on the future of Africa, a trip to the South, a walk around the old neighborhood in Harlem, a profile of Norman Mailer, and a eulogy of sorts to Richard Wright. Within those individual essays, Baldwin revisits the large themes that persist in his work by intimately relating them to his various subjects. A trip to his childhood block in Harlem becomes a piece about ghettos as symbols of institutionalized racism and how black folks view white folks and the general feelings of bitterness about the empty promise of public housing.

In a 1961 book review for the New York Times, Charles Poore wrote that Baldwin "can do very difficult things with words." He can be subtly humorous, succinct, and authoritative. He can also be verbose and conceited. But, as a collection, the essays of Nobody Knows My Name work well to examine the same themes through different looking glasses.

Though Baldwin called Nobody Knows My Name a "private log," many of its entries were published separately in Esquire, Harper's, The New Leader, and the New York Times Magazine. It remains a hallmark book for scholars and writers.

Notes on Baldwin�s Collected Essays
In Harper's, conservative intellectual Shelby Steele evaluates Baldwin as an activist writer

Nobody Knows My Name: More Notes of a Native Son is a collection of essays by the American author James Baldwin. The collection was published by Dial Press in July 1961, and like Notes of a Native Son, Baldwin's first collection published 1955, it includes revised versions of several of his previously published essays, as well as new material.


"The Discovery of What It Means to Be an American" originally appeared in The New York Times Book Review, January 25, 1959; "Princes and Powers" in Encounter, January 1957; "Fifth Avenue, Uptown: A Letter from Harlem" in Esquire, July 1960; "East River, Downtown: Postscript to a Letter from Harlem" in The New York Times Magazine, March 12, 1961, with the title "A Negro Assays the Negro Mood"; "A Fly in Buttermilk" in Harper's, October 1958, with the title "The Hard Kind of Courage"; "Nobody Knows My Name: A Letter from the South" in Partisan Review, Winter 1959; "Faulkner and Desegregation" in Partisan Review, Fall 1956. "In Search of a Majority" was adapted from an address delivered at Kalamazoo College, February 1960, and first appeared in print in Nobody Knows My Name. "The Male Prison" originally appeared in The New Leader, December 13, 1954, with the title "Gide as Husband and Homosexual." "Notes for a Hypothetical Novel" was adapted from an address delivered at an Esquire magazine symposium on "Writing in America Today" held at San Francisco State College, October 22–24, 1960, and appeared in print for the first time in Nobody Knows My Name. "The Northern Protestant" was originally published in Esquire, April 1960, with the title "The Precarious Vogue of Ingmar Bergman." Two of the three sections of "Alas, Poor Richard" originally appeared in periodical form: "Eight Men" in Reporter, March 16, 1961, with the title "The Survival of Richard Wright," and "The Exile" in Encounter, April 1961, with the title "Richard Wright" (a French translation of "Richard Wright" appeared in Preuves, February 1961, entitled "Richard Wright, tel que je l'ai connu"). The concluding section, "Alas, Poor Richard," was published for the first time in Nobody Knows My Name. "The Black Boy Looks at the White Boy" originally appeared in Esquire, May 1961.

Critical reception[edit]

"To take a cue from his title, we had better learn his name."

Irving Howe, the New York Times, July 2, 1961.[1]

In the New York Times, Irving Howe called it a "brilliant new collection of essays".[1]



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *