Blog Question 9/28

Narrative closure in a bildungsroman( a coming of age story) tends to symbolize the taming of the frighteningly restless energies of modernity through the incorporation of   the wayward/individualized youth into the existing ( though perhaps slightly modernized) social structure. To the extent that If Beale Street Could Talk mimics in many ways this narrative form ( the love story often being  an integral element of such stories… for example Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre) its ending frustrates expectations of and/or desires for closure. Given its historical moment ( which to vastly over simplify is at the intersection of the demise of Black Power politics and the emergence of Mass incarceration), how might we interpret the significance of the novel’s conclusion?

17 Responses to Blog Question 9/28

  1. Noah says:

    The ending of the novel is very much anti-climactic, and perhaps intentionally so. We spend almost two-hundred pages getting to know Tish and Fonny, her family and their struggles, which we relate to and become invested in.

    Though Fonny is released from prison, we don’t know whether or not he will ever be exonerated. The weight of the trial still looms over his head, denying us the reader of the natural resolution we crave.

    It’s difficult to say if Tish has changed. Someone in class brought up the idea that perhaps why Baldwin set the novel in the first person is that Tish needs to tell the story. Maybe she, like us, desires some sort of closure or simple overarching meaning of it all.


    • Sydney Exler says:

      I think I was the one that suggested the idea you mentioned from class, and I think it’s a great response to this question/issue. I think, as readers, it is hard for us to acknowledge that while we may not receive ‘closure’, Baldwin has still imparted a significant story and message onto us. While the novel’s ending may leave us questioning certain things, perhaps the point of the novel is not to resolve Fonny’s storyline, but to allow Tisch a space to talk through her story, and come to terms with everyone that has led up to this moment. I think this, from our perspective, is difficult to accept; however, I also think that makes her an even stronger character, because she acts independently from the interests of the reader.

  2. Siobhan McKenna says:

    I agree with Noah that the lack of closure at the end of the novel probably purposefully coincides with with Tish’s need/want for closure in her life and current situation.

    In addition, I think maybe Baldwin, with this anticlimactic ending, is trying to highlight the precariousness and uncertainty of Tish’s and her family’s situation. Just as we, the reader, never really know if Fonny is ever exonerated, or what happens with his trial, and raising bail money, Tish’s family doesn’t really know what’s going to happen either. As discussed in the previous blog post, Tish and her family, though in a very difficult situation, never seem to give up hope. Although they try to be optimistic, they aren’t completely certain what the outcome of the situation will be, if it will be a happy ending or not. Therefore, Baldwin leaves us with this very open ending, as if to say that no one can ever really guess how these kinds of situations end. Tish and her family are at the will of the court and the white officials of society, and no one, not even Baldwin, could ever guess if they’ll be sympathetic towards Fonny or not.

  3. Sarah Terrazano says:

    I agree with Siobhan that the lack of closure mirrors the uncertainty that the characters face throughout the novel. Tish and her family, try as they might to remain optimistic, cannot know if Hayward will succeed and Fonny will be released on bail. With the whole novel having a backdrop of uncertainty, a neat ending would contradict the point Baldwin is trying to make. He alludes to this even on the first page, where Tish frames the story as one about “trouble that doesn’t make sense” (3). The novel’s job is not for it to make sense of Fonny’s unjust situation, but rather to show why it shouldn’t make sense that Fonny and Tish’s love story, and their families’ lives, are at the whims of an unjust system.

    Not only does the novel lack closure, but it ends with a climactic scene — Frank’s suicide and Tish having the baby. The frantic phone call from Adrienne, Tish’s worsening feeling of dread, and the revelation that Frank was found in his car all have an extremely fast-paced, tense tone, leading right into Tish’s scream and her going into labor. Unlike a denouement, this has the feeling that the story is not stopping; it is continuing and the reader simply does not have access to the rest. This also makes me think of the issue of mass incarceration; Fonny may have gotten out of prison, as implied by one brief line at the end of the book, but it is an issue not close to being resolved.

  4. Ryan Spencer says:

    Immediately, the frustrating conclusion of the novel does two things: resolves the novel without complete tragedy and resolves the novel without complete happiness. Baldwin would see either complete tragedy or complete happiness as ignorant. In the historical context of “the intersection of the demise of Black Power politics and the emergence of Mass incarceration” complete happiness does not seem possible. The advocacy for black power or even, at this point, much hope of strides towards black equality seems bleak as blacks are being systematically sent incarcerated. Despite this bleakness, though, Baldwin does not want to present hopelessness. In presenting the hopelessness through complete tragedy of his characters, Baldwin would seemingly lose the humanity of his characters as the characters are vitalized throughout the novel by their purpose to get Fonny out of jail. Furthermore, the statement made by tragedy would be that blacks cannot succeed, a statement Baldwin does not want to present. The frustrating conclusion allows the realities of black identity of the time (the struggle, the unfairness, the marginalization, etc) be presented as unresolved and continuing without presenting either hopelessness in the face of such problems or belittling such problems by having the characters overcome them.

  5. Abigail Gardener says:

    As I got to the end of the novel, like everyone else, I had hoped for an ending with closure. However, despite the seeming bildungsroman format of “If Beale Street Could Talk”, I also expected that there would not be a satisfying ending. Although I do believe that Baldwin did this because of symbolic reasons stated above (it is narrated in first person so that Tish doesn’t know what’s going to happen either, the lack of closure shows that Tish and her family are at the mercy of the courts) I also believe Baldwin ended the novel this way because this is the reality people face every day. A satisfying ending in which all loose ends are tied up and everything ends happily is not how life works, especially for a family like Tish’s at this period in history. As far as I can tell, Baldwin painted an accurate picture of life in a housing project during this time period; he showed the oppression and the incredible struggles and inequality, but he also showed the immense love and sense of community. As with any family, there are going to be ups and downs, but to end the novel in a neat package with everyone’s problems being solved would not have been honest, and Baldwin wanted to truly paint a picture of black life in America during this time.

  6. Gilberto Rosa says:

    Throughout this whole book, I have been thinking about how closely Baldwin’s style in the novel (which is very distinct from his other writings) is to Junot Diaz’s writing. The almost painful, raw, bittersweet ending really confirmed that for me because it was so similar to the way Diaz closes his stories. And so I’ve been thinking of the ways in which black authors write these anti-climatic, edge-of-seat novels with these twisted endings and what that means for the subjects they write about. The fact that we don’t know what ends up happening with Fonny feels a lot like what it is to be black. All these hopes and dreams and love stories are so powerful within us and then there’s this force called human life working against us- and sometimes, most of the time, it wins. I tried not to get too deep with the metaphors and what the story could be saying because I don’t think those were Baldwin’s intentions at all. The book is purposely written in this natural, relatable way so that the ending really does twist us and make us hurt. I guess I was really expecting to read a book for fun- and not a narration of blackness in America. It felt so real.

  7. Alex Bordona says:

    Although Baldwin is certainly not the first and will not be the last to write an “unsatisfying” ending, I do believe that the historical moment in which it was written as well as the content of the novel do play into his decision to not exactly close the story. Fonny’s prison time will never be over, even when he is released. This is obvious, but also explained through Danny’s character, who is still in the throes of what I’ll call post-traumatic stress disorder because of his incarceration.
    The struggle for Black liberation is not over, it did not end with the Black Power movement, and there has been no closure. I think that ending in the middle of Tish’s story symbolizes this ongoing struggle that Black Americans as a whole face, and the struggle that the Rivers and the Hunts are facing on an individual level.

  8. Aly says:

    This may feel like a stretch, but this reminds me a lot of Beyonce’s Lemonade. Critics are still upset with Bey for not having a neat ending with closure, or at least some type of big finale. We often demand from Black artists that they give us access to a neat ending. Their endings, which may be unsatisfying, end up being more of a testament to the reality that these areas of discomfort are quotidian for Black people, instead of a one-time narrative with a prominent resolution. There is no clear resolution because hood romances and Black love are actually complex in real life, too, without a clear-cut answer. It is an ode to the complex quotidian.

  9. amthomas says:

    This may feel like a stretch, but this reminds me a lot of Beyonce’s Lemonade. Critics are still upset with Bey for not having a neat ending with closure, or at least some type of big finale. We often demand from Black artists that they give us access to a neat ending. Their endings, which may be unsatisfying, end up being more of a testament to the reality that these areas of discomfort are quotidian for Black people, instead of a one-time narrative with a prominent resolution. There is no clear resolution because hood romances and Black love are actually complex in real life, too, without a clear-cut answer. It is an ode to the complex quotidian.

  10. LaShawn Simmons says:

    At this point, my answer will echo everyone’s previous responses. It is true that the lack of closure in this novel translates into the actual hardships Black folk face in a moment of rising mass incarceration. I believe an anti-climatic ending in novels written by African Americans serve a different purpose. With this novel in mind, African American writers are not writing with the intent to have a shock value or an attempt to be unconventional in their writing. Uncertainty is a reality that we are faced with daily. Generally speaking (or at least in my experience ) uncertainty is a reoccurring theme in African American culture. In fact, this aura of uncertainty has always present throughout the novel from Fonny’s initial fear of not being released in time for the baby to Mr. Hayward’s uncertainty around the conclusion of the trial. Even in conversations, little instances of uncertainty resurfaces into the conversation. For instance, upon reflecting on his first jail experience Daniel states “You know how they do it” in which Tish tells the audience “I don’t know” (107).. Don’t is italicized. With that being said, the anti-climatic ending doesn’t come as a surprise to me at all but only a reminder of fear in the unknown.

  11. Conor Amrien says:

    I definitely agree with the feelings on the lack of closure in this novel, but i do, however, think that Baldwin has taken a very different route from Richard Wright. While the ending does not provide closure, much like Big Boy Leaves Home, Baldwin provides the reader with a story that adds to the tense feelings of the time. As the Black Power movement is losing influence, rather than writing a protest novel, Baldwin chooses to right a love story in the first person that directly correlates with the events of the time. It is raw and emotional in a vastly different way from Wright’s stories. Everything does not work out perfectly for Tish and her family because that wouldn’t be doing the novel justice. We became so invested in this story of hope for a reason. It is an ode to the frustrations of the time, and one that pushes people forward through Tish’s influence.

  12. Laura Katz says:

    I believe the ending of the novel is filled with such uncertainty because the lives of African Americans in Harlem at the time are extremley uncertain and scary. I think Baldwin wants to leave us with this uneasy feeling because often times life for oppressed groups is left in the hands of white society and their destiny and fate is not their own. This ending also reminds me of Invisible man which in someways also is a bildungsroman, because in that novel, the narrator is also unsure of his identity and fate within society because of racism. Both novels can not have an easy and comfortable ending because that would not be accurate of the oppression faced by African Americans.

  13. jkoslofsky says:

    I was beyond peeved at the ending of the novel, it felt to me as if Baldwin had set out to write a three hundred page novel and simply forgotten or been forced to cut the final third. But that’s the point, right? Tish contemplates that there isn’t enough time for anything throughout the text. Baldwin wants you to feel the punch in the gut that is Frank’s suicide, an unplanned pregnancy and a justice system that separates you from the ones you love. At a point, his prose can no longer illustrate those feelings, and he simply abandons the frustrated reader, who may just be able to empathize with his characters.

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