| James Baldwin's Quarrel with Richard Wright Author(s): Maurice Charney|
American Quarterly, Vol. 15, No. 1 (Spring, 1963), pp. 65-75
James Baldwin's Quarrel with Richard Wright
ONE OF THE BEST STATEMENTS WE HAVE OF THE DILEMMA OF THE NEGRO writer in America may be found in James Baldwin's review of the Selected Poems of Langston Hughes. After taking Hughes severely to task for failing to transform his private experience as a Negro into art, Baldwin concludes: "Hughes is an American Negro poet and has no choice but to be acutely aware of it. He is not the first American Negro to find the war between his social and artistic responsibilities all but irreconcilable." 1 This statement goes to the heart of the quarrel between Baldwin and Wright, for Wright's failure, as Baldwin sees it, lay in a confusion of his social and artistic responsibilities, a distortion of artistic truth into protest and propaganda. When Baldwin was asked recently to explain his comment on Hughes, he ignored the literary implications and spoke only about how it feels to be a Negro in America: "to be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious, is to be in a rage almost all the time. So that the first problem is how to control that rage so that it won't destroy you." 2 Wright would certainly have agreed with the first part of Baldwin's statement, for Wright's whole career as a writer was devoted to expressing the violent rage and outrage of the native son who is doomed to be an outsider. But Wright would have earnestly rejected Baldwin's solution-- "the first problem is how to control that rage"-- as pusillanimity and compromise with reality.
It is interesting to note that Norman Mailer in Advertisements for Myself accuses Baldwin of a similar pusillanimity: he is fated to remain a charming minor writer because he is incapable of saying "Fuck you" to his readers (not one of Mailer's own failings).3 But it is here precisely that the great temptation for the writer lies: to simplify the issues under the illusion that if you simplify them enough, people will recognize them; and this illusion is very dangerous because that isn't the way it works.... As a writer, you have to decide that what is really important is not that the people you write about are Negroes, but that they are people, and the suffering of any person is really universal. 4
Baldwin's quarrel with Wright, then, centers on the large issues of the intention and aim and values of the writer. Although both feel the in evitable rage of being a Negro in the United States, their ways of dealing with this rage are radically different. One makes fiction out of the rage itself, brutal, pure, violent and unconstrained, while the other tries to penetrate and analyze that rage and convert it into a recognizable human emotion.
In an essay on Wright written after his death in Paris in 1960, Baldwin tries to set forth their relationship. There is a remarkable blending of compassion and fierce candor in this essay and the portrait that emerges is a deeply ambivalent one: in his later years (he died at 52) Wright became a lonely, isolated, embittered and misunderstood man, frequenting the existentialist cafes of St. Germam where he was made to feel his utter estrangement from the new generation of American and African Negro writers and intellectuals. It is with deeply mixed feelings that Baldwin speaks his eulogy for Wright:
In the meantime, the man I fought so hard and who meant so much to me, is gone. First America, then Europe, then Africa failed him. He lived long enough to find all of the terms on which he had been born become obsolete; presently, all of his attitudes seemed to be historical.6
Baldwin's relation to Wright was complicated by Baldwin's own sense of the older writer as his mentor and spiritual father, from whom he needed to revolt in order to prove his own manhood and integrity and skill. He became Wright's protege early in his career and it was Wright's support that helped Baldwin win his first writing fellowship. But the two were never destined to become friends. There was first the wide difference in age: Baldwin was born in 1924, Wright in 1908, and when they first met Baldwin was an aspiring writer of twenty and Wright a very successful novelist of thirty-six. This difference in generations is very significant. Wright's spiritual and intellectual outlook was molded by the Depression: he worked for the Federal Writers' Project, he was a member of the Communist Party,7 and he shared in the acute social and political consciousness of the times. His novel, Native Son (1940), vies with The Grapes of Wrath (1939) as the most characteristic expression of that period. Baldwin, however, came to maturity at the very end of the Depression and during the war years. He is also a product of a very different environment from Wright's. He was born and brought up in Harlem, while Wright was born in Natchez, Mississippi, and lived in the South for a good part of his earlier life (he did not go to Chicago until 1934). For Baldwin the South is the Egypt of his ancestors, a place that will always be remote and mythical, but for Wright the South was the living reality of his life even when loosely transposed to the South Side of Chicago.
The open quarrel between the two came in Paris in the spring of 1949 after Baldwin had published an essay called "Everybody's Protest Novel" in the first issue of Zero. 8 At the end of this essay, and almost as an after thought, Baldwin adds a few damaging remarks about Native Son. Wright immediately felt betrayed by his spiritual son and a conflict arose between the two that could never be healed. To Baldwin the cause of this conflict is very simple:
I had used his work as a kind of springboard into my own. His work was a road-block in my road, the sphinx, really, whose riddles I had to answer before I could become myself. I thought confusedly then, and feel very definitely now, that this was the greatest tribute I could have paid him. (Nobody Knows My Name, p. 197)
It is just because Baldwin took Wright so seriously that the conflict he describes had to take place. Baldwin himself acknowledges: In Uncle Tom's Children, in Native Son, and, above all, in Black Boy, I found expressed, for the first time in my life, the sorrow, the rage, and the murderous bitterness which was eating up my life and the lives of those around me. His work was an immense liberation and revelation for me. (Nobody Knows My Name, p. 191)
This reads like the crucial discovery of the hero of the Bildungsroman, where the revolt of the son from the values of the father is the central act of the book. Without any hypocrisy, Baldwin constantly testifies to the power of Wright as a novelist and as a spokesman for the Negro, and to the impact on him of Native Son:
Now the most powerful and celebrated statement we have yet had of what it means to be a Negro in America is unquestionably Richard Wright's Native Son. We have yet to encounter ... a report so indisputably authentic, or one that can begin to challenge this most significant novel.9
Baldwin's attack on Native Son is, therefore, deeply premeditated and deliberate; he uses it to define his own position as a novelist and critic, which is opposed to the values of naturalism and the naturalist view of reality.
In "Everybody's Protest Novel" the attack on Native Son is merely a brief appendix to a long and impassioned argument about the sentimentality and untruth of Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. Uncle Tom, the only real black man in the novel, "has been robbed of his humanity and divested of his sex" in order that he may be clothed in the humility and forbearance necessary for his salvation. Since as a black man he will inevitably be damned, one can only arrange for his soul by making him into a simulacrum of a white man. Through a chain of argument about the nature of a literary character and the nature of reality, Baldwin arrives at the startling conclusion that Bigger, the ironic "native son,"
is Uncle Tom's descendant, flesh of his flesh, so exactly opposite a portrait that, when the books are placed together, it seems that the contemporary Negro novelist and the dead New England woman are locked together in a deadly, timeless battle; the one uttering merciless exhortations, the other shouting curses. (Notes of a Native Son, p. 22)
Both Mrs.Stowe and Richard Wright have refused todeal with man in his wholeness and complexity, but have been content to create stereotypes with a carefully defined social role.10
In this larger sense neither writer has tried to grapple with the nature of reality and the truth of human experience. Because "literature and sociology are not one and the same," the protest novel fails as a novel in the same measure as it succeeds as propaganda. Bigger Thomas is ultimately a failure as a character because he is a monster, a being deprived of all the attributes of human consciousness:
For Bigger's tragedy is not that he is cold or black or hungry, not even that he is American, black; but that he has accepted a theology that denies him life, that he admits the possibility of his being sub human and feels constrained, therefore, to battle for his humanity according to those brutal criteria bequeathed him at his birth. (Notes of a Native Son, pp. 22-23)
It is this dependence of the novel on a set of abstract and impersonal ideas or principles, the subordination of art to ideology, that Baldwin is arguing against, whether it be the New England Calvinist philanthropy of Mrs.Stowe or the outraged sense of social justice of Richard Wright. The very power of Native Son as a novel and its tremendous popular success served Baldwin as a way of defining his own ideas. He refers to this novel many times in his essays. In "Many Thousands Gone" he relates it to the traditional American story of "an unremarkable youth in battle with the force of circumstance"; in this case not merely poverty but color, "a circumstance which cannot be overcome, against which the protagonist battles for his life and loses" (Notes of a Native Son, p. 31). Bigger Thomas is foredoomed to failure and the pattern of chapters in the novel-- Fear, Flight, Fate-- makes this clear: the murder is a natural outcome of Bigger's fear, a way of exorcising that fear, a momentary triumph. But Bigger cannot win, and his flight and capture and death sentence are all part of a web of fate in which he is caught from the start. In the inevitable unfolding of events from that first sadistic killing of the rat, there is no way out for Bigger. It is in this sense of a preordained pattern set upon the living reality that Native Son resembles Uncle Tom's Cabin, although in the latter the web of fate is presented in theological terms.
To Baldwin the chief weakness in Native Son both artistically and humanly is its "unrewarding rage," and the most severe criticism he can level against Wright is that the violence in his work is "gratuitous and compulsive." Wright never examines the causes of this violence in the human soul, so that it remains merely brute violence and Bigger is merely subhuman and a monster. At its root in Wright "it is the rage, almost literally the howl, of a man who is being castrated." Thus, when Bigger
"is found hacking a white woman to death, the very gusto with which this is done, and the great attention paid to the details of physical destruction reveal a terrible attempt to break out of the cage in which the American imagination has imprisoned him for so long" (Nobody Knows My Name, p. 18 )
But Bigger for all of his rage remains only a social symbol without the consciousness of a human being, and therefore without any complexity or dimension:
Bigger has no discernible relationship to himself, to his own life, to his own people, nor to any other people.... It is remarkable that, though we follow him step by step from the tenement room to the death cell, we know as little about him when his journey is ended as we did when it began; and, what is even more remarkable, we know almost as little about the social dynamic which we are to believe created him. (Notes of a Native Son , pp. 34-35)
In this respect Native Son is a failure even as a social novel, for it gives the impression that the Negro has no real society and tradition about which one can write. A necessary dimension of life has been cut away, "this dimension being the relationship that Negroes bear to one another, that depth of involvement and unspoken recognition of shared experience which creates a way of life" (Notes of a Native Son, p. 35).
This is a necessary limitation in all protest novels, of which Native Son is the most famous example in Negro literature.
The heart of Bigger's rage is not merely his hatred of whites but his self-hatred. He does not really become a Christ-like martyr for the Negro race, which he can redeem ritually by his act of murder. The truth of the matter is that he kills because of his own fierce bitterness at having been born a Negro. At the end of the novel Bigger "wants to die because he glories in his hatred and prefers, like Lucifer, rather to rule in hell than serve in heaven" (Notes of a Native Son, p. 44). This is a powerful and heroic solution, but not a human one. Baldwin is preoccupied throughout his essays with this problem of the Negro's self-hatred, and in his tender and ambivalent eulogy for Wright he sees that lonely, exiled figure as someone who has deliberately cut himself off from the present complexities of the Negro problem, because "his real impulse toward American Negroes, individually, was to despise them" (Nobody Knows My Name, p. 212). This statement must have cost Baldwin great anguish to make, but it is part of his unflinching assumption that the Negro's hatred of the white man is always a manifestation of self-hatred. "Negroes in this country ... are taught really to despise themselves from the moment their eyes open on the world. This world is white and they are black." 11
There are some splendid descriptive pages on the Harlem race riot of 1943 which support this conclusion. The underlying cause of this riot was the ghetto's chronic need to smash something: "Most of the time it is the members of the ghetto who smash each other, and themselves" (Notes of a Native Son, p. lll). Pure hatred like Bigger's is not viable because hate in such an extreme form is really a suicidal wish that destroys the man who hates. The race riot in Harlem in 1943 did not express any permanent attitude of blacks to whites but was merely a temporary escape valve for the frustrations of both Negroes and whites.The Negro's real relation to the white American prohibits "anything as uncomplicated and satisfactory as pure hatred. In order really to hate white people, one has to blot so much out of the mind-- and the heart that this hatred itself becomes an exhausting and self-destructive pose" (Notes of a Native Son, p. 112). In terms of his real psychological situation the Negro in America always faces a choice between the complicated alternatives of love and hate, he is always put in the position of having to decide between "amputation and gangrene." One is forced to make the choice that Bigger refused to make: to accept life as it is and to fight injustice without either hatred or despair.
In this sense the Negro problem is part of a more general injustice of man to man, perhaps a reflection of the capacity for evil in the nature of things that the innocently optimistic American refuses to see.Violence has an enormous primitive appeal because it seems so simple and final a solution to the problem of injustice: "And who has not dreamed of violence? That fantastical violence which will drown in blood, wash away in blood, not only generation upon generation of horror, but which will also release one from the individual horror, carried everywhere in the heart" (Nobody Knows My Name, p. 213). One must reject the romantic and heroic appeal of violence just bocause it is so simple and so personal and so unsatisfactory to the larger claims of justice. In one of his most eloquent passages, Baldwin refuses to separate the Negro past from the history of the human race, or to consider the Negro's fate apart from man's fate:
Which of us has overcome his past? And the past of a Negro is blood dripping down through leaves, gouged-out eyeballs, the sex torn from its socket and severed with a knife. But this past is not special to the Negro. This horror is also the past, and the everlasting potential, or temptation, of the human race. If we do not know this, it seems to me, we know nothing about ourselves, nothing about each other; to have accepted this is also to have found a source of strength-- source of all our power. But one must first accept this paradox, with joy. (Nobody Knows My Name, p. 213)
Baldwin's fundamental argument against Wright, then, is that he has refused to accept this paradox. Both Wright and the naturalists utterly reject such a noble and charitable view of man's potentialities, while Baldwin cannot accept the will-less paradigm of Native Son-- Fear, Flight, Fate-- or the Dread, Dream, Descent, Despair, Decision sequence of The Outsider as an accurate description of reality.
Baldwin wants to get rid of Bigger Thomas not because he is not vividly real and present, but because he is only one part of a larger reality. There is, in fact, one incident in Notes of a Native Son in which Baldwin shows himself remarkably like Bigger. In 1942 he had been working in defense plants in New Jersey and discovering with shock and outrage the realities of race relations. On his last night in New Jersey, he went to the movies in Trenton with a white friend. After seeing "This Land is Mine" they went on to the "American Diner," where they were refused service-- the ironies of the names are all underscored by Baldwin. This refusal set off a sort of hysteria in him, "like a physical sensation, a click at the nape of my neck as though some interior string connecting my head to my body had been cut." He went blindly into "an enormous, glittering, and fashionable restaurant in which I knew not even the intercession of the Virgin would cause me to be served" (Notes of a Native Son, pp. 95-96). He then experienced that sense of blind rage and impotence that Bigger felt in the presence of Mary and the Daltons, and suddenly hurled a half-filled water-pitcher at a white waitress with intent to kill. Luckily, with the aid of his friend, he was able to escape unscathed, but the incident preyed on his mind and he drew from it a
conclusion exactly opposite to Wright's.
I could not get over two facts, both equally difficult for the imagination to grasp, and one was that I could have been murdered. But the other was that I had been ready to commit murder. I saw nothing very clearly but I did see this: that my life, my real life was in danger, and not from anything other people might do but from the hatred I carried in my own heart. (Notes of a Native Son, pp. 97-98)
This incident supports very well Baldwin's thesis that the Negro's hatred for the white man is always self-hatred and always self-destructive.
But more important, I think, is the distinction he makes between his real life as a human being and his social and mythic and fantasy life as a Negro. There is a dangerous conflict between the two which can never be resolved. As Baldwin admits, "no American Negro exists who does not have his private Bigger Thomas living in the skull," but a "paradoxical adjustment" comes when the Negro is compelled "to accept the fact that this dark and dangerous and unloved stranger is part of himself forever." And Baldwin adds significantly: "Only this recognition sets him in any wise free...."(Notes of a Native Son, p. 42). This is the sort of freedom that Bigger never had and Baldwin's insistence on this freedom constitutes one of his major themes. He is willing to accept the reality of being an American and to return from his exile in France (as Wright never did) to continue the search for his own identity. It is therefore no mere bravado when, in the preface to Nobody Knows My Name, he takes as a motto for his work the great Socratic dictum: "the unexamined life is not worth living." The same impulse lies behind his constant concern for "human weight and complexity" and the full human reality. It is from this vantage point that Baldwin launches his attack on the protest novel, which is, as I have been trying to show, really an attack on the assumptions of naturalism.
Baldwin's central beliefs about man and the purpose of the novel are surprisingly close to those of Faulkner's Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech; man is
something resolutely indefinable, unpredictable. In overlooking, denying, evading his complexity-- which is nothing more than the disquieting complexity of ourselves--we are diminished and we perish; only within this web of ambiguity, paradox, this hunger, danger, darkness, can we find at once ourselves and the power that will free us from ourselves. It is this power of revelation which is the business of the novelist, this journey toward a more vast reality which must take precedence over all other claims. (Notes of a Native Son, p. 15)
In this statement Baldwin.as a Negro resolutely affirms his concern with man, black or white, in all of his complexity. The hard, deterministic world of Native Son denies this complexity and must be rejected. As a critic of naturalism Baldwin allies himself with Ralph Ellison, who, in his National Book Award speech, tried to define the sense of reality that governs his Invisible Man (1952):
Thus to see America with an awareness of its rich diversity and its almost magical fluidity and freedom, I was forced to conceive of a novel unburdened by the narrow naturalism which has led after so many triumphs to the final and unrelieved despair which marks so much of our current fiction. 12
Neither Baldwin nor Ellison is a writer of despair: Invisible Man is a comic masterpiece like The Adventures of Augie March (1953), and its author, as Baldwin sees him, is "the first Negro novelist I have ever read to utilize in language, and brilliantly, some of the ambiguity and irony of Negro life" (Notes of a Native Son, p. 8).
Although the blackness of the human heart, the inability to love, the sense of emptiness and waste in modern life are Baldwin's major concerns in his novels, he ends not in despair but in a tragic paradox: "How's one going to get through it all? How can you live if you can't love? And how can you live if you do?" (Another Country, p. 340). But the possibility of love, no matter how brief or futile, defines the characters' being and makes war on the chaos of despair. Despite the fact that Another Country, Baldwin's latest and best novel, does not have the narrative compulsion of Native Son, it does have a turbulence and a passionate eloquence that Wright could never achieve, and the seriousness of its concern about love and chaos and the loss of innocence is foreign to Wright's work. Baldwin's earlier novels, Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953) and Giovanni's Room (1956), are sensitive and troubled, but it is not until Another Country that he speaks with full assurance in style and theme.13 It is, in its way, a remarkable novel, and it begins to realize Baldwin's powers as a writer of fiction; he has already given us a set of essays of incredible lucidity and intelligence.
1 James Baldwin, "Sermons and Blues," New York Times Book Review, March 29, 1959, p. 6.
2 "The Negro in American Culture," Cross Currents, XI (1961), 205. This is the text, with minor editing, of a symposium that was originally presented over WBAI. The participants were James Baldwin, Emile Capouya, Lorraine Hansberry, Langston Hughes and Alfred Kazin; Nat Hentoff was the moderator.
3 Norman Mailer, Advertisements for Myself (New York, 1959), pp. 471-72. Baldwin answers Mailer and discusses their friendship in "The Black Boy Looks at the White Boy," Nobody Knows My Name (New York, 1961), pp. 216-41 (first published in Esquire, May 1961).There are some curious echoes of this essay in the relation of Rufus and Vivaldo in Another Country (New York, 1962)-, and Baldwin shows himself quite capable in this book of uttering every conceivable obscenity to his reader. But I think Mailer's comment still applies in the sense that Baldwin does not mean to taunt or flout his reader; his obscenities are not designed "pour epater le bourgeois" as some of Mailer's are.
4 "The Negro in American Culture," p. 205.
5 Wright's own defiant description of his personal life has an ill-concealed note of despair in it:
I'm a rootless man, but I'm neither psychologically distraught nor in any wise par ticularly perturbed because of it. Personally, I do not hanker after, and seem not to need, as many emotional attachments, sustaining roots, or idealistic allegiances as most people. I declare unabashedly that I like and even cherish the state of abandon ment, of aloneness; it does not bother me; indeed, to me it seems the natural, inevi table condition of man, and I welcome it. I can make myself at home almost any where on this earth and can, if I've a mind to and when I'm attracted to a landscape or a mood of life, easily sink myself into the most alien and widely differing environ ments. I must confess that this is no personal achievement of mine; this attitude was never striven for ....I've been shaped to this mental stance by the kind of experi ences that I have fallen heir to. (White Man, Listen!, New York, 1957, p. 17)
This passage also reflects the pernicious influence on Wright of French existentialism, seen at its worst in the novel -,he Outsider (New York, 1953). Wright is self-consciously representing himself as "L'Etranger." This is a far cry from the bitter rootlessness and isolation of Wright's autobiography, Black Boy (New York, 1945). Nelson Algren comes to a similar conclusion about Wright in his Paris Review interview (No. 11, Winter 1955). By refusing to admit that he writes out of passion, out of his belly, he made a tragic mistake. "He's trying to write as an intellectul which he isn't basically ... he's trying his best to write like a Frenchman" (pp. 51-52).
6 James Baldwin, Nobody Knows My Name: More Notes of a Native Son (New
York, 1961), pp. 188-89. But Baldwin sees in some of the stories of Eight Men (Cleve land, 1961) "a new power and a new tone," evidence that Wright "had survived, as it were, his own obsolescence... " (p. 189.) This statement needs to be qualified by the fact that most of the stories in Eight Men are old pieces previously published. There is also, however, Wright's last novel, The Long Dream (Garden City, 1958), which shows unmistakable signs of a new sensitivity and awareness.
7 Wright tells us in the preface to Black Power (New York, 1954, p. xi) that he was a member of the Communist Party from 1932-44, but left the party because he was convinced that Marxist Communism was changing the world in a manner that granted the Negro even less freedom than he had before. If Wright's report in The God that Failed (ed. Richard Crossman, New York, 1949) is any guide, he felt the conflict between party discipline and his own will almost from the beginning and refused to submit to party dictation. Wright's novel, The Outsider, gives a full account of his disillusion with communism that is very close to Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man (New York, 1952). There is, by the way, a story in Eight Men called "The Man Who Lived Underground" (first published in 1944) that must have influenced the conception of Invisible Man. "The Man Who Killed a Shadow" in Eight Men also deals with the theme of the Negro's invisibility.
8 Zero, I (Spring 1949), 54-58. This essay was reprinted in the June issue of the Partisan Review, XVI (1949), 5713,-85. In Zero Baldwin's essay follows immediately after Wright's "The Man Who Kilfed a Shadow," a brutal and violent story in the mood of Native Son.
9 James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son (Boston, 1955), pp. 30-31. In Another Country the three books that Eric has with him in France are An Actor Prepares, The Wings of the Dove and Native Son (p. 195).
10 Wright's first published book was called Uncle Tom's Children (1938; enlarged 1940) and its epigraph shows his preoccupation with the "Uncle Tom" theme:
The post Civil War household word among Negroes-- "He's an Uncle Toml"-- which denoted reluctant toleration for the cringing type who knew his place before white folk, has been supplanted by a new word from another generation which says: "Uncle Tom is dead!"
If the Southern rural Negroes of these stories are not cringing, they are certainly cowed and beaten and full of despair. In the sense that they believe in a reality in which violence and prayer are the only means of protest-- both equally futile for life on this earth-- they are indeed Uncle Tom's children.
11 James Baldwin, "Letter from a Region in My Mind," New Yorker, Novem ber 17, 1962, p. 65. Wright's attitude to his own hate is very complex and deserves to be quoted at length. The last section of Eight Men is a long essay called "The Man WhoWent to Chicago," which may be thought of as a sequel to Wright's autobiography, Black Boy (1945)-it was first published in 1945 with the title "Early Days in Chicago." Here Wright tries to define the strange interrelations of color-hate and self-hate: Color-hate defined the place of black life as below that of white life; and the black man, responding to the same dreams as the white man, strove to bury within his heart his awareness of this difference because it made him lonely and afraid. Hated by whites and being an organic part of the culture that hated him, the black man grew in turn to hate in himself that which others hated in him. But pride would make him hate his self-hate, for he would not want whites to know that he was so thoroughly conquered by them that his total life was conditioned by their attitude; but in the act of hiding his self-hate, he could not help but hate those who evoked his self-hate in him. So each part of his day would be consumed in a war with him- self, a good part of his energy would be spent in keeping control of his unruly emo- tions, emotions which he had not wished to have, but could not help having. Held at bay by the hate of others, preoccupied with his own feelings, he was continuously at war with reality. He became inefficient, less able to see and judge the objective world. And when he reachedwthat state, the white people looked at him and laughed and said: "Look, didn't I tell you niggers were that way?" (pp. 213-14)
12 Quoted in Robert A. Bone, The Negro Novel in America (New Haven, 1958), p. 198.
13 Another Country is, in part, a very successful rewriting of the sterile and ingrown
novel, Giovanni's Room. Some of its success comes from balancing the homosexual theme against the heterosexual and the androgynous; it is one kind of love in a world in which all kinds of love are equally difficult and perilous.