Baldwin plays with the geography and social separation of New York City, perhaps using it as a microcosm for the United States as a whole. There’s an interesting comparison to made between Greenwich Village, where Richard, Cass, and Vivaldo live, with Harlem, the Rufus and Ida’s neighborhood, several miles to the north. Baldwin plays with a north/south dichotomy. Harlem seems more like a cultural center, while southern Manhattan takes on a more dull, hostile atmosphere.
I mean, I think that Megan brought up a great point, that I think we will possibly bring up again, and that is did Rufus kill Rufus or were there other factors that took his own life? It’s really important that we not dismiss his suicide as just his own internal factors and that we look at the events in his life that made him take his own life. Somewhere not too far from the beginning of the book, Rufus’ depression becomes legible to the reader. His disassociation from his friends and family was certainly alarming. He one hundred percent gets treated like a black man in America, even though we should think about whether or not Rufus is fully aware of what that means. And lastly, he never confronts (or at least doesn’t reveal) his sexuality to us. It might look like he’s just going about doing his own thing but he definitely does feel homoerotic feelings and so, I wonder, because society doesn’t treat folks on the queer spectrum with respect, how did Rufus manage? I didn’t really give a response to this because these are the things I think about all the time. And I mean, if Baldwin can’t figure it out then what does that mean for us? I don’t know y’all.
The choice to jump off the “bridge built to honor the father of this county” is certainly significant as it depicts, in my opinion, a rejection of the country. Whether or not Rufus killed Rufus, the choice to jump off the bridge had a symbolic meaning probably to Rufus and certainly to Baldwin. The bridge, through its name, reflects not only the country as a whole but specifically the creation of the country- a country which was created flawed with slavery and inequality. Rufus’s suicide therefore encapsulates a rejecting of several things. Firstly, that the country has become un-flawed, and, secondly, that the country is legitimate (having been created on principles of equality, which the country implicitly rejected treatment of black people).
I think this argument is spot-on, and reading Rufus’ rejection of ‘the nation’ symbolically through his jumping off the bridge is an extremely powerful message from Baldwin about American society as a whole at this time. I also think that Aly’s comment ties nicely into this one, because we can read Rufus’ jump as a deliberate decision to die on his own terms; even this can be understood as an exertion of his own power over the nation, and as an establishment of Rufus’ rejection of the principles Ryan mentions.
Thank you, Laura, for your question. As Gilberto has noted, and Alex & I asked in our presentation: Did racism kill Rufus or did Rufus kill Rufus? While the argument for racism killing Rufus is obvious, I also want to make space for another argument that Black theorists sometimes make, which is that Black folks have historically used suicide as a way to die on their own terms instead of letting white people exploit their labor or terrorize/ kill them. Some might conceptualize Rufus’s choice to separate himself from the U.S Nation in the only way he feels is accessible for him as someone who cannot afford to travel to another country. It was his way of making a statement that he demands to not be treated the way he was treated before, and saw freedom in death.
As for the question of Baldwin constructing the nation, I’m interested in diving more into ideas of how Baldwin might constitute bodies and relationships as nations of their own. Is Ida’s body Vivialdo’s “Another Country”? Does Eric view his Black male lovers as his “another country”?
I think Rufus’s decision to jump off the “bridge built to honor the father of his county,” is another manifestation of his complex relationship with the nation’s treatment of him. In this country, Rufus is so limited; he is not allowed him a place or any autonomy. I think that jumping off this particular bridge symbolizes the way that the helplessness the country has forced upon him is one of the driving forces that contributes toward his suicide. I also think this decision is a way to disregard the ownership of the white man of the country. As we discussed in class, the large skyscrapers that surround and oppress Rufus are owned by white men. This can be extended to the way that Rufus feels within the context of the country as a whole. “The father of his country” that the bridge is named after is undoubtedly white. Rufus seems to be rejecting the power and ownership of white men by using the bridge, one of its manifestations, for his own purposes. This decision seems to symbolize both cause and revolt.
As Aly mentioned, Baldwin might be constructing characters and relationships as “other countries” within the context of the novel. Many relationships in the novel could be seen this way, such as Ida and Vivaldo. When thinking about Rufus’ relationship with Leona, its interracial aspect may seem unique, but it doesn’t represent “another country” – rather, as we discussed in class, it represents the oppression and hatred that Rufus feels from the South. Rufus and Leona’s relationship is very much of the country. But when Rufus jumps off the George Washington bridge, a symbol of the “father of our country,” this can be seen as his way of trying to get to “another country.” In addition to “another country” being other people, it can also be something beyond life – Rufus talks to God as he is falling, saying, “I’m coming to you,” as if he is going to another (perhaps better) place, rather than just ending with his death.
I think this is particularly powerful in that it is the physical and symbolic manifestation of this country killing Rufus, rather than he killing himself. Suicide is also generally not considered an honorable thing by wider society, so by jumping off a bridge meant to honor a country that does not honor him, he is in a way expressing his feelings about how white society treats him.
The country is described as a negative place. New York is often described as grey and unfeeling. The south described as oppressive and hot. Baldwin’s dislike of America is especially noticeable because of the juxtaposition of his description of Europe, and the harmonious relationships that take place there, the ease with which people exist in those spaces. The United States is described as a difficult, harsh, painful place full of hatred and unforgivingness.
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