Asterisk denotes entries on real places.
A young Frenchman named Yves persuades his male lover to return to Manhattan after a sojourn abroad, but because the former arrives, confident and hopeful, only at the end of the story, it is left to readers to imagine what the city will come to represent for him. For the others New York has proved a difficult place to live. One of the southerners leaves New York disenchanted after three years, while the other returns home, her mental health destroyed by her stormy relationship with Rufus, who thereafter commits suicide.
James Baldwin’s New York is a place where disparate and socially nonconforming people can develop intense relationships and discover exciting, if precarious, career opportunities, but it is also a place of brutalizing influences. It brims with people, many of them ironically seeking a respite from desperate loneliness. Much of the socializing takes place in bars and cheap apartments where the principals frequently obey the urge to overdrink and vent their hostilities on even their friends. The liberal social attitudes of most of the white principals allow them to develop strong affection for the two black characters, but despite their best efforts the white characters cannot totally empathize with Rufus and Ida, and racial tension crackles among them. Life in the city has made Ida perhaps the strongest character in the novel; she is hard and cynical, though only barely out of her adolescence.
*Greenwich Village (GREH-nich). Neighborhood in the lower west side of Manhattan that had–in the time in which the novel is set–a longstanding reputation as a cosmopolitan neighborhood attractive to artists and writers. Baldwin himself spent much time in Greenwich Village in the 1940’s. Among his novel’s characters, Rufus a musician, and his sister, an aspiring singer, both perform there, and the would-be writer Vivaldo lives there. The Village’s live-and-let-live atmosphere enables the Harlem-bred Rufus to feel reasonably comfortable visiting his friend Vivaldo there. Later Vivaldo and Ida are able to live together in his apartment without arousing the curiosity and hostility that an interracial couple might face elsewhere.
*Harlem. Northern section of Manhattan, centering on 125th Street, that had become a predominantly African American community by the middle of the twentieth century. Harlem is the home of Rufus and Ida, as well as vast numbers of other African Americans. The novel never describes their home directly, however, and restricts its Harlem scenes mainly to bars and night clubs. While racial tension lurks close to the surface in the night spots, they offer opportunities for black and white people to mingle and share the African American musical heritage often on display.
*France. European country in which the lovers Eric Jones and young Yves spend time, living in Paris and vacationing on the Mediterranean coast. As an American who lived in Europe himself, Baldwin could understand why southerners would want to come to New York, but New Yorkers, he thought, could escape their surroundings only by going to France. In this novel Eric does both, but later returns to New York because Yves sees no future for himself in France.