James Baldwin’s honest and passionate style of writing has featured him as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. The letter, “My Dungeon Shook: Letter to My Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation,” by James Baldwin, is a letter about inspiration and hope for a better future for African-Americans, delivered through Baldwin’s vigorous and blunt manner. The use of paradoxes and repetition in this letter are used to highlight important points. Paradoxes may seem contradictory, but they are used to highlight significant ideas while repetition repeats specific words to provide emphasis to focus on precise points. Baldwin’s solution to issues like racism is also expressed through the messages of love, acceptance, and integration. These morals are still alive and applicable to today’s world but are not always used actively. Instead, messages of competition, hate, and oppression climb to the top of our society and proclaim themselves the masters of our hearts and minds. Thus, James Baldwin’s eye-opening letter “My Dungeon Shook: Letter to My Nephew” compellingly illustrates the values of unification and acceptance as a solution to racism and other issues of oppression and self-worth using the literary device of paradox more effectively than repetition.
Baldwin’s repetition of the words, “accept them [white people] and accept them with love” (Baldwin, line 84), are ever so present today. While the meaning may have changed from accepting white people to accepting all, the moral of it remains intact. Everyone coming together and accepting each other is what peace is, and who doesn’t want peace? Other matters can also use this message to solve oppression and other issues like disagreements between political parties, religions, etc. In the present-day, the political atmosphere is getting foggier and foggier with the emergence of political oppression and animosity because of the competition that we see between the two main political parties in America, the Republicans and the Democrats. The hate that reflects from each party to another shouldn’t represent America and its values, therefore, Baldwin’s solution, if people could unite and listen, could solve the unhealthy dissimilarities that occur and promote healthy differences and opinions. Likewise, the oppression of religion also happens between faiths in our day and instead of acting out of acceptance and love for another, some religions state that theirs is better and that the others don’t have any say in faith. This is contradictory because, for some of those particular religions, love and acceptance are what their leaders or religious figures teach and represent.
Furthermore, Baldwin’s advice and solution of acceptance in the letter provides evidence and encouragement towards self-worth, self-respect, and not relying on the respect of others. A couple of examples found in the letter support this, like the paradox, “You were not expected to aspire to excellence: you were expected to make peace with mediocrity” (Baldwin, lines 67-68). Despite the contradictory state of the message, Baldwin’s idea was that society expects African-Americans to stay below, behind the scenes, and to not aspire to do anything great, but that African-Americans should strive to do the opposite and be proud of their heritage. When Baldwin uses paradoxes in his writing, he tends to point out the contrasting of the marginal minority group of African-Americans in America compared to the extensive and broad government and political movements and how African-Americans face the threat of downgrading to the point of extinction. Another example from the letter states, “There is no reason for you to try to become like white people and there is no basis…for their…assumption that they must accept you. The really terrible thing…is that you must accept them” (Baldwin, lines 81-83). This quote highlights the idea of not defining one’s self-worth based on other’s opinions, instead, founding it on who one really is, and that race or other differences should not be a deciding factor for someone’s self-worth or acceptance from others. Not only that, but this paradox may seem contrary to the point since he sometimes makes the argument where it seems like white people are doing all the actions of having prejudice then loving and accepting, but Baldwin makes the point of white people being in the wrong and that African-Americans themselves must forgive and forget. Like Martin Luther King Jr. said about people, “not be[ing] judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
Given these points, James Baldwin’s enlightening letter ‘My Dungeon Shook: Letter to My Nephew’ enthrallingly outlines the standards of integration and recognition as an answer for bigotry and different issues of oppression and self-esteem while utilizing the literary devices of repetition and paradoxes. The few examples of repetition and the many uses of paradoxes throughout the letter are used purposefully to emphasize the main points of acceptance and self-love while adhering to Baldwin’s genre of writing. James Baldwin provided new-found hope for African-Americans and other minorities through the troubles and trials of the Civil Rights Movement and foreshadowed what was to come in the future of acceptance, love, and integration. Even now, in today’s time, I can use Baldwin’s message of forgiveness and friendship in simple disagreements with others since I know that holding on to the grudge of hate and loathing will only make it fester in our hearts and make the situation worse than it already is. One might be questioning how this movement might be spread, a way that is almost guaranteed to work is setting an example by not letting material or mental differences get between the bonds of humanity and morality.