Cruelty of Man

            “Going to Meet the Man” by James Baldwin tells the story of a man named Jesse who is extremely racist, but is uncontrollably attracted to African Americans, while simultaneously wanting to torture them. The reason for this is Jesse’s past experience as a little boy watching the lynching of a black man that supposedly shoved a white woman. When Jesse arrives at the lynching, the black man has been striped of his clothes and his hanging from a tree branch by his wrists. There is fire underneath him, and white men are lowering him into the fire, pulling him out, and dipping him back in repeatedly. At one point, a man approaches the black man and mutilates his genitals beyond repair. The black man cries out in pain from the torture. They continue to burn the man until he dies, then tear apart the rest of his body to the point where he is unrecognizable. Throughout the whole ordeal, Jesse, as a child, becomes aroused at the sight of the black man being tortured. This vignette is telling of how normalized lynching African Americans was and how it affected American society.

            James Baldwin wrote in the lynching of the black man as a sort of casual gathering. Within the text, he refers to it as a “picnic,” which holds an extremely positive connotation (Baldwin 1339). However, the connotation is inaccurate when applied to the actual event that takes place. Baldwin portrays the lynching as nonchalant as the fact that, “torture killings could be so casually and nonchalantly represented stops us in our tracks, evoking a sensibility and a culture that seem puzzling as well as repellent,” (Garland). Baldwin is purposely attempting to make the audience uncomfortable with the situation because it should be uncomfortable. However, he is upping the ante by portraying it nonchalantly, which may even be somewhat infuriating to some readers. Baldwin has a strong grasp of what to say to invoke a reaction from his readers. I am able to invoke this same reaction through the creation of a collage focusing on the scene of the lynching.

            I created a collage based around the lynching of the black man on the basis of detail and significance. During the lynching, the main character reveals many characteristics of the black man, showing that he is the most important thing in that setting, and the rest of the people mean close to nothing. I represent that through the amount of detail within the collage. All of the spectators are blank, with no expressions whatsoever. The black man, however, holds extreme detail throughout his body. This is meant to represent how in the story, the other people around were an afterthought, while the black man was the main focus of the main character, as the man is the source of his lifelong attraction to African Americans and torturing them in any way he can. I also included a much more detailed version of the man to show just how grotesque the act of lynching him is. However, the blankness of the audience behind him shows how they see it as a casual experience, not repelled at all by their own actions (Garland). The details in the work reveal what is most important.

            I chose a collage over every other medium because of how fragmented it looks. The story of the lynching, from the main character’s point of view, is told by a child, who may not have an accurate representation of the event in his memory. Children are known to have their memories somewhat warped as they age, which may have happened with the case of the main character in this story. I used a collage to represent how fragmented this memory might be, while also providing as much detail as the main character remembers from his childhood. The pieces within the collage also represent all of the pieces of society and how they have come together to commit an atrocity and stain on the human race. However, all of these pieces could be rearranged in some way to make the scene different, just as society could change and realize that the hateful act depicted in the collage is wrong and unjust.

            “Going to Meet the Man” by James Baldwin was written as a reflection of society in a way that makes society want to change. By showing how displeasing, yet casual the act of lynching African Americans is, Baldwin is exposing society for how cruel it is and evoking an emotional response from his audience. I am able to do this same thing with my collage. It evokes a response from the audience with its visual composition. Overall the inclusion of a lynching as a casual experience is what drives both works and sends the message that society is cruel and should question itself.

Works Cited

Baldwin, James. “Going to Meet the Man.” The Norton Anthology: American Literature: 1865 to Present, edited by Robert S. Levine, W. W. Norton & Company, 2017, pp 1331-1343.

Garland, David. “Penal Excess and Surplus Meaning: Public Torture Lynchings in Twentieth-Century America.” Law & Society Review, vol. 39, no. 4, Dec. 2005, pp. 793–833. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1111/j.1540-5893.2005.00245.x.