Going to Meet the Man

Going to Meet the Man Study Guide

Baldwin's 1965 collection of short stories, Going to Meet the Man, is comprised mostly of stories he previously published between 1948 and 1960. The stories touch on themes of sexuality, class, and race, in particular the experience of black people in America and the institutional racism that made America, according to Baldwin, an unlivable place for black people. When asked why he chose to go to Paris when he left America with no more than forty dollars in his pocket, Baldwin replies, "It wasn’t so much a matter of choosing France—it was a matter of getting out of America. I didn’t know what was going to happen to me in France but I knew what was going to happen to me in New York. If I had stayed there, I would have gone under, like my friend on the George Washington Bridge," referring to a friend of his who committed suicide shortly before Baldwin left New York. Baldwin's personal feelings about expatriation are particularly reflected in the narrator of "This Morning, This Evening, So Soon."

The collection received mixed critical reviews. Stanley Kauffman of The New York Times accused the collection of seizing on Baldwin's fame to recycle a collection of unremarkable stories, even going so far as to call Baldwin's fiction "crusted with cliche." Kauffman accuses Baldwin of relying totally on the importance of his themes to make up for what he deems unimpressive prose. It is sadly ironic how Baldwin's fiction, which addresses issues of institutional racism, was written off at the time of its publication by a reviewer, working for a major news institution, who betrayed his own prejudicial perspective in the final lines of his review, where he writes, "[Baldwin's] strength and value, so far, are in the world of fact, not of art. Speaking of Negro writers, Ralph Ellison said 'What moves a writer to eloquence is less meaningful than what he makes of it.' This was not written specifically of Baldwin, but, in my view, it applies to him." In this way, Kauffman takes the words of one black author and turns them against another; he also automatically groups their work together purely on the basis of their race.

Though meeting mixed critical reviews, Baldwin's fiction and non-fiction endure to this day as some of the most important commentary on race in America in the 20th century.