Date of Award

2-2-2006

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Thomas L. McHaney - Chair

Abstract

James Arthur Baldwin argues that the issue of humanity—what it means to be human and whether or not all people bear the same measure of human worth—supersedes all issues, including socially popular ones such as race and religion. As a former child preacher, Baldwin claims, like others shaped by both the African-American faith tradition and Judeo-Christianity, that human equality stands as a divinely mandated and philosophically sound concept. As a literary artist and social commentator, Baldwin argues that truth in any narrative text, whether fictional or non-fictional, lies in its embrace or rejection of human equality. Truth-telling narrative texts uphold human equality; false-witnessing texts do not. Baldwin shows in four of his novels the prevalence of the latter narrative type. Within the fictional societies of Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953), Giovanni’s Room (1956), If Beale Street Could Talk (1974), and Just Above My Head (1979), Baldwin reveals how society’s powerful bear false witness against the marginalized through stereotyping social narratives. However, Baldwin uses his novels to show the humanity of the marginalized. In so doing, he connects his works, as well as the works of contemporary black literary artists, to the concept of Christian spirituality.

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