The fire next time is a non-fictional book written by author James Baldwin. It is composed of two essays. One is called “My dungeon shook” and the second one is called “Down at the cross.” the first essay, Baldwin writes a letter to his 14-year old nephew and discusses the role race plays in America’s history. The second essay Baldwin discusses the relations between religion and race, particularly focusing on his experiences with the church as a youth in addition to the Islamic ideologies of the Harlem dwellers. This text presents the story’s plot overview.
Here Is a Synopsis of The Fire Next Time
The plot overview is divided into two chapters. These are “My Dungeon Shook” and “Down at the Cross”
My Dungeon Shook
Baldwin starts by informing James, his nephew, that he had attempted writing the letter five times but failed. He claims that the image of James’ face keeps appearing on his mind each time he begins writing. The image also brings memories of his brother.
He compares James and his father claiming that they are both aggressive; a trait inherited from his grandfather. The grandfather tried to tone down his aggressiveness and believed in the church. However, James is not inclined towards religion because he is part of another era.
Baldwin claims to have known both him and his father since their childhoods. This, he claims, gives him the ability to understand human development, especially through the pain. He acknowledges the injustices America inflicted on blacks.
Baldwin anticipates criticism from the whites (innocents) since they will deem his ideas pessimistic. However, he insists the letter is addressed to James to teach him how to deal with the so-called “innocents” who mistreat blacks.
In the letter, he tells James that upon his birth, his parents and grandparents were very worried about him. However, it is their love for each other that enables them to persevere hardship. He reminds James to keep the spirit for the sake of future generations.
Baldwin reminds James that all odds are against him due to his race, and he is expected to be content with his situation instead of striving for greatness. However, he reminds him that knowing his roots will unlock his potential.
Furthermore, Baldwin stresses the importance of not listening to what whites say. They are just speaking out of insecurity and indecency. However, he should find a way of accepting them through love because whites have also been brainwashed that blacks are an inferior race.
He believes some whites view blacks as equal humans, but they are too afraid to voice out this opinion. He uses a metaphor that blacks are like a fixed star in the sky and moving it will shake both heaven and earth’s foundations.
Baldwin further emphasizes that the ignorant whites are still his brothers, and their prejudice can only be overcome with love. He reminds his nephew about his ancestry of tough and brave people who endured insurmountable hardships.
In the end, Baldwin tells James that even though the nation is celebrating 100 years of freedom, black people cannot be free unless white people are also free in their minds.
Down at The Cross
Upon turning 14 years of age. Baldwin became extremely religious. He developed some disdain for all vices and even saw attrition to the opposite sex as sinful. As most of his peers reached adolescence, the boys lost hope in education as the girls became more religious. They formed gangs and became drinkers.
The writer recounts rare run-ins with the police at 10 and 13 years of age. However, he claims that the church helped him avoid crime. Another point he makes is that white people did not live by the Christian values they claim to uphold. He also states that at one time he was tempted to join a crime or “gimmick,” but his “gimmick” was the church.
He claims starting a gimmick is kind of awakening since blacks have been taught to hate themselves and feel inferior. He even sensed the fear when a black parent scolded his/her child upon crossing a racial boundary. Baldwin was a bit rebellious and joined a different church from the one his father attended.
One day while at the church, he realized that even religion did not bring communion amongst blacks. They could not even look at one another. Therefore, he could only turn and look towards God. However, he felt confused since God was white. This made him pass out.
The next day, he was told he was saved, and indeed, he felt free of all the guilt.
To keep himself active, he became a church minister. The preaching gave more meaning to his life as he witnessed the joy and pain of his followers.
Later on, he started developing an interest in literature while attending a Jewish high school. However, his father did not want him to have Jewish friends. He began to become restless with the church since Christianity appeared to encourage love only among fellow believers.
He even argues that the church has been an agent of oppression where missionaries used religion to justify the domination of other nations.
Baldwin turned his focus onto the religion of Islam, especially Elijah Mohamed, its leader. He even uses the German holocaust as evidence of the evils of Christianity. Likewise, he viewed how black soldiers were treated during world war II. later on, he buys into Malcolm X’s ideologies.
When Baldwin finally holds a meeting with Elijah, they discuss how African-Americans should be encouraged to join Islam and claim part of America as an Islamic state. However, later on, he realizes that separatism would be a recipe for more chaos and oppression. He also asserts that America needs to address the issue of oppression on its soil to gain good international standing.
The dark racial history America has is what has set an example that led to other countries such as the USSR gaining more allies and exerting dominance. In the end, Baldwin states that all Americans- black and white need to come together as lovers. It is only through this way that the country can establish itself as a united nation and change the world.