The Fire Next Time

Grace Meagher

Main Arguments

  1. Religion: Baldwin expresses the backwardness of the religious leaders of his community through his childhood experiences. He chronicles fiscal irresponsibility, personal agendas, and spiritual fallacy. The deeper young Baldwin got involved in the church, the more troubling the situation became. Thus, Baldwin argues against the churches and religious establishments created by men for personal benefit.
  2. Revolution: Baldwin commends the intentions of many revolutions, though he identifies their overwhelming lack of success. Often, Baldwin maintains, these revolts end up trading one oppressive regime for another. Yet, he is not completely homeless, as he believes that if anywhere in the world could allow a revolution to bring positive change, it would be in the United States of America. Thus, he encourages the fight for increased rights of African Americans as a revolution of sorts, but cautions of the potential consequences supported by history.
  3. Racism: While the entirety of Fire Next Time revolves around the strained race relations of the time, Baldwin does develop a clear argument concerning the sheer scope of racism. Baldwin maintains that racism throughout history has created an absolutely devastating and almost insurmountable challenge for African Americans to face. Especially within the ghettos of America, the youth need some sort of 'gimmick' in order to find any measure of success in life. Thus, Baldwin explores the suffering of African Americans at the hands of paramount racism.

Media Connection

This video expands upon and provides alternate viewpoints pertaining to Baldwin's belief that the Black experience in Western Culture is of the same scope, and perhaps even more destructive than, the Nazi Holocaust of the Jewish people.
Blacks vs Jews

Rhetorical Devices

Anaphora: "I could not become a prize fighter- many of us tried but very few succeeded. I could not sing. I could not dance." (Page 24) By repeating the simple phrase "I could not" Baldwin emphasizes the definite nature of his situation and how few options existed to him. The lack of variation in sentence structure mirrors the lack of options young men in Baldwin's position had access to.

Parallelism: (The paragraph-long sentence on the bottom of Page 98) Throughout this extremely long sentence, Baldwin repeats shorter lists of nouns describing the Negro experience, separated by in depth descriptions of some of the included terms that begin with the term being further explored. This sentence's structured created through parallelism establishes the pacing for this section of the book while further developing the adamant tone.

Allusion: "God gave Noah the rainbow sign, No more water, the fire next time!" (Page 106)

By ending the book with a selection form a biblically-inspired slave song, Baldwin ends the piece in a way that touches on each of his arguments. Some of this acknowledgements included the biblical nature of this quote relating to his experiences within the church, the origin of this song from slave culture relating to accepting the rich history of African Americans, and the warning tone of impending emergency relating to the coming revolution, among others.