Posted in Short Stories

James Baldwin: Previous Condition

Deal Me In 2021 – Week 15

I had got to the point where I resented praise and I resented pity and I wondered what people were thinking when they shook my hand. In New York I met some pretty fine people; easygoing, hard-drinking, flotsam and jetsam; and they liked me; and I wondered if I trusted them; if I was able any longer to trust anybody. Not on top, where all the world could see, but underneath where everybody lives.

James Baldwin is an incredible writer as I’ve found out reading through much of his fiction. “Previous Condition” is no different as he examines the current life of Peter, a black actor trying to make his way in New York City.

The central plot point involves Peter being discovered living in a room rented for him by one of his friends. A room where African Americans are not allowed to live. He’s told to leave before the police are called – so he does.

Baldwin graphically and easily displays his writing ability in showing the reader the frustration, the humiliation, the helplessness, the mistrust and even the hatred Peter feels for not just the land lady kicking him out but for his society as a whole.

Peter’s Jewish friend (who rented the room for him) and his Irish American girlfriend both are able to listen to Peter and empathize but they don’t seem to be able to help him.

This story is included in Baldwin’s collection Going to Meet the Man. I read it when I selected the Queen of Hearts for Week 15 of my Deal Me In 2021 short story project. Check out my Deal Me In list here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

2 thoughts on “James Baldwin: Previous Condition

    1. I highly recommend his novel Go Tell It On the Mountain and his short story “Sonny’s Blues”. In fact, I consider “Sonny’s Blues” to be my favorite short story that I’ve ever read. It’s been at the top of my list for at least a few years!

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