James Baldwin, like innumerable other Black artists, has found that in his efforts to express the plight of the Black man in America, he has been forced to deal over and over again with that inescapable dilemma of the Black American - the lack of sense of a positive self-identity. Time after time in his writings he has shown an awareness of the fact that identity contains, as Erik Erikson so accurately indicates, "a complementarity of past and future both in the individual and in society." Baldwin wrote in "Many Thousands Gone," "We cannot escape our origins, however hard we try, those origins which contain the key - could we but find it - to all that we later become." And again he notes in A Rap on Race, "If history were the past, history wouldn't matter. History is the present, the present. You and I are history."

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Copyright © 1988 G.K. Hall & Co. This chapter first appeared in Critical Essays on James Baldwin.

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