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James Baldwin's father/mental illness

  1. Jul 30, 2013 #1
    Any James Baldwin fans here?

    I read an essay of his--I forget the title--in which he talks about going to see his father in a care facility not long before he died. It would be overly generous to say that his father was not a nice guy. But when his father was institutionalized, James learned that he had a legitimate mental illness. This knowledge helped James understand and forgive some of what he had endured. Does anyone know exactly what mental illness it was? Either from reading other essays in which Baldwin gives specifics, or just from recognizing the characteristics from his description of his father?

    When I first read that essay, I thought, "You needed a doctor to tell you your dad was nuts?" But I realized this is too simplistic. There are many people out there who have serious character flaws (well beyond the usual), and I don't think it does any good to try to explain all of them away by saying they are mentally ill and can't help themselves. I guess it's a matter of degree. Everyone acts a little nuts some of the time. But then there are those who really are sick, unaware of what they are doing, and incapable of being made aware. I think that's a real distinction. When you are dealing with someone who shows many of the characteristics, how do you know which category they fall into?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 31, 2013 #2
    I don't know James Baldwin, but I do know first hand how damaging a mental illness is to everyone involved.
     
  4. Jul 31, 2013 #3
    Indeed.

    Of Baldwin's works, so far I've only read the semi-autobiographical novel Go Tell it on the Mountain and a dozen or so essays collected in The Price of the Ticket. From what I can tell, his father, a Baptist/Pentecostal preacher, was one of those people who had lost the ability to distinguish between his own thoughts and God's thoughts, his will and God's will. You can imagine what kind of behavioral consequences might flow from that.
     
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