Blog Option 2: Examine a passage in which Baldwin uses adjectives for particular effects.
I read through The Fire Next Time over the winter break in preparation for our class, and I was struck then by the clarity of message and the (unfortunate) timeliness – will this country never address its founding problems? I think there was something in there about Kennedy’s prediction of a black president in forty years, and how that isn’t the point, to achieve the pinnacle of white systems. And then we did have a black president forty years later, and here we are still with our same problems, so, yeah, Mr. Baldwin…I wish he were required reading in America.
I read through again for class this week and was struck again by the return again and again to the importance of love. And it was instructive to read with an eye for his adjective use, especially after watching and listening to a couple of his speeches.
I noticed entire passages where perhaps only a couple of adjectives could be found (and many nouns repeated – drilling home important ideas like “love,” “survival,” etc.). Baldwin is powerful is his use of only nouns and adjectives, setting mini scenes with just these forms of speech, as in the following, which uses very few adjectives (I’ve italicized the sparse adjectives):
p.100: “It is very hard to believe that those men and women, raising their children, eating their greens, crying their curses, weeping their tears, singing their songs, making their love, as the sun rose, as the sun set, were in any way inferior to the white men and women who crept over to share these splendors after the sun went down.”
I suppose that the phrases with gerunds in this quote are modifying phrases and function as adjectives in that way, but their structure as individual three word noun and verb structures add more action and make me hear the cadence of Baldwin’s speech (short-pause-short-pause-etc) as we discussed the other week.
Baldwin also has sections where he is painting vivid details, creating something almost visceral, and in these instances, adjectives (and adverbs, at times) are abundant (I’ve been conservative in my italicizing here – you could argue that there are even more modifiers):
p.20: “For the wages of sin were visible everywhere: in every wine-stained and urine-splashed hallway, in every clanging ambulance bell, in every scar on the faces of the pimps and their whores, in every helpless, newborn baby being brought into this danger, in every knife and pistol fight on the Avenue, and in every disastrous bulletin: a cousin, a mother of six, suddenly gone mad, the children parcelled out here and there; an indestructible aunt rewarded for years of hard labor by a slow, agonizing death in a terrible small room; someone’s bright son blown into eternity by his own hand; another turned robber and carried off to jail.”
These adjectives create powerful images, and Baldwin seems to know this, coming back to more than one as he concludes the book, re-using even the same adjectives (he references the wine-stained and urine hallways again).
-by Catherine LaSota