If I didn’t know who the author was of If Beale Street Could Talk, I would have assumed that a woman wrote this work. James Baldwin is an artist when it comes to telling stories. His words paint a world that one could envision as each page is turned. This story of love, hope, and despair is told through a character named Tish. Tish is a 19-year old African-American girl from New York who is in love with Fonny (a sculptor and the father of her child). When Fonny is falsely accused of a crime that he didn’t commit and is imprisoned, Tish, along with her family and Fonny’s family attempt to work together regardless of their household differences. Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk is a classic and fairly easy read that shows the beauty and struggles of Black life in America.
“…a woman is tremendously controlled by what the man’s imagination makes of her…” (Baldwin, 1974, p. 59). There were many times I stopped while reading this book. Sentences like the first one in this paragraph made me think about previous relationships I’ve had with men. I don’t always take everything literally when I read certain books but that entire page jumped out to me because I resonated so much with its content. Tish is young and very vulnerable. Her and Fonny’s love is beautiful because it is pure, untouched. The hope that both families had lied in their baby and it is clearly seen the moment Fonny is taken to prison.
Apart or rather intertwined with Tish and Fonny's story is that of their parents, siblings and other friends in New York. The crime that Fonny was accused of (rape) involved Mrs. Victoria Rogers from Puerto Rico. Tish's mom decided to go on the hunt to find the young lady and ask her to come back to the states to speak on the incident. With the era that this book is placed in, the dynamism of Fonny’s false accusation (knowing that he was not present where the incident occurred and the police officer who was involved in the case had a special vendetta against Fonny because he is a Black man) is very prevalent in the book. Injustice is a recurring theme but so is sympathy. The reader sympathizes for Victoria, especially with retelling the act that could add mental and painful stress on the body but also with Fonny in knowing that he was not the one who committed the crime and because he is a Black man being falsely accused. If Beale Street Could Talk has themes of sex, racism, love, family life, religion, parenthood, and much more. If Baldwin were still here, I would ask him what he was thinking when he wrote this book. It opened me up in a way that still throws me off but nonetheless, it will leave you wanting more.
Baldwin, B. (1974) If Beale Street Could Talk. New York, NY: The Dial Press.