Places: Another Country

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1962

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social realism

Time of work: Mid-twentieth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*New York City

*New Another CountryYork City. Great northern city in whose borough of Manhattan most of the novel’s action unfolds. New York plays a determining role in the lives of the book’s eight principal characters. To the two southerners, it is a magnet that has drawn them from native surroundings that they regard as limiting and unsatisfactory in their search for a more stimulating life. Manhattan has also formed the novel’s two African American characters, Rufus Scott and his younger sister Ida, culturally and socially. The lone married couple of the novel, Richard and Cass Silenski, have most likely chosen to live in Manhattan because Richard is a writer who wishes to work amid the world of publishers and editors. Daniel Vivaldo Moore, another, but unsuccessful, writer, has a “stony affection” for New York, a city that offers him a chance to exercise his talent for friendship with its varied racial and ethnic types.

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

*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

*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

*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.

BibliographyBloom, Harold, ed. James Baldwin. New York: Chelsea House, 1986. This collection of critical essays on Baldwin includes two major discussions of Another Country by Charles Newman and Roger Rosenblatt. In his introduction, Bloom sees Baldwin as a prophet whose essays are more important than his fiction.Bloom, Harold, ed. James Baldwin. Updated ed. New York: Chelsea House, 2007. This updated edition of Bloom’s critical anthology lacks the essays by Newman and Rosenblatt, but it includes one by Carolyn Wedin Sylvander on the representation of love and sex in Another Country and Giovanni’s Room (1956).Campbell, James. Talking at the Gates: A Life of James Baldwin. New York: Viking Press, 1991. This biography, by a man who knew Baldwin personally, is especially interesting because it draws on the Federal Bureau of Investigation files kept on Baldwin. Campbell deals frankly with Baldwin’s bisexuality. Included are sixteen pages of photographs.Collier, Eugenia W. “The Phrase Unbearably Repeated.” In James Baldwin: A Critical Evaluation, edited by Therman B. O’Daniel. Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1977. Innovative essay on Baldwin’s use of music to advance the themes of Another Country. Also discusses the use of music to advance characterization, to convey the need for love, and to show the characters’ emotions.Harris, Trudier. Black Women in the Fiction of James Baldwin. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1985. Though Harris’s long chapter on Another Country deals mainly with Ida Scott, it nevertheless offers a full, interesting interpretation of the novel, with good attention to main themes of race, gender, and sexuality.King, Lovalerie, and Lynn Orilla Scott, eds. James Baldwin and Toni Morrison: Comparative Critical and Theoretical Essays. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. Includes two essays comparing Another Country to Morrison’s Jazz (1992).Macebuh, Stanley. James Baldwin: A Critical Study. New York: Third Press, 1973. Intriguing discussion on love as the chief social theme of the novel and of Rufus as a major influence on the characters.Newman, Charles. “The Lesson of the Master: Henry James and James Baldwin.” In James Baldwin, edited by Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1986. Creative discussion of the problem of identity in Another Country and the use of Rufus to make the white characters explore the inadequacy of their lives.O’Daniel, Therman B. James Baldwin: A Critical Evaluation. Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1977. Contains essays on Baldwin as novelist, as essayist, as short-story writer, as playwright, and as scenarist, as well as a section on his “raps” and dialogues. Bibliography and extensive secondary bibliography.Pratt, Louis H. James Baldwin. Boston: Twayne, 1978. A useful introduction to Baldwin’s life and works, including a discussion of Another Country. Contains a chronology and an annotated bibliography.Relyea, Sarah. Outsider Citizens: The Remaking of Postwar Identity in Wright, Beauvoir, and Baldwin. New York: Routledge, 2006. Discusses Baldwin’s role in reimagining the nature of identity, his representation of race and sexuality, and the importance of his status as a cultural outsider.Rosenblatt, Roger. “Out of Control: Go Tell It on the Mountain and Another Country.” In James Baldwin, edited by Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1986. Imaginative discussion of the tensions among the characters, including the whites’ guilt regarding Rufus’ death and Eric as a liberating character.Standley, Fred L., and Nancy V. Burt, eds. Critical Essays on James Baldwin. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1988. Divided into sections on fiction, nonfiction, and drama. The introduction surveys Baldwin’s literary reputation and includes a summary of the reception of Another Country. The collection opens with a 1979 interview with Baldwin and includes Granville Hicks’s extensive review of Another Country.Standley, Fred L., and Nancy V. Standley. James Baldwin: A Reference Guide. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1980. This bibliographic survey of works by and about Baldwin provides summaries of reviews and critical essays on Another Country as well as most of Baldwin’s other works.Sylvander, Carolyn W. James Baldwin. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1980. This introductory study includes a chronology, a biographical sketch, and chapters on major aspects of Baldwin’s career. Chapter 5 summarizes and evaluates Another Country.
Categories: Places