Describing the powerful forces of the Hudson River and the steamboat mechanisms, Baldwin writes, "Beneath them the strong, indifferent river raged within the channel and the screaming spray pursued them. In the engine room, children watched the motion of the ship’s gears as they rose and fell and chanted. The tremendous bolts of steel seemed almost human, imbued with a relentless force that was not human. There was something monstrous about this machine which bore such enormous weight and cargo." This imagery of the vast, "indifferent" force of the river paired with the inhuman, seemingly impossible bolts of the steamship edges toward the sublime.
New York City in "Sonny's Blues"
As the narrator of "Sonny's Blues" rides to his apartment with Sonny after picking him up from jail, he describes their drive up through Manhattan: "So we drove along, between the green of the park and the stony, lifeless elegance of hotels and apartment buildings, toward the vivid, killing streets of our childhood. These streets hadn’t changed, though housing projects jutted up out of them now like rocks in the middle of a boiling sea." This passage, like most of Baldwin's descriptions of New York in the collection, reflects his perspective that New York is an antagonistic, unlivable place. Although the language he uses to describe the wealthy Upper West Side differs from that used to describe the familiar streets of Harlem, both descriptions suggest the neighborhoods' inability to sustain life: while the first has a "lifeless elegance" and the second is characterized by "killing streets," the results are nonetheless the same: death.
New York City in "This Morning, This Evening, So Soon"
The unnamed narrator in "This Morning, This Evening, So Soon" describes New York City upon returning to it: "There it was, the great, unfinished city, with all its towers blazing in the sun. It came toward us slowly and patiently, like some enormous, cunning, and murderous beast, ready to devour, impossible to escape." Like in "Sonny's Blues," the imagery suggests that the city is an active, antagonistic force, a beast that kills. This description differs from "Sonny's Blues" in that Baldwin places more emphasis on the City as a living thing that stalks and kills its prey.
New York City in "Come Out the Wilderness"
In "Come Out the Wilderness" Baldwin describes Ruth's drive into Midtown: "When she left the house he was sleeping. Because she was late for work and because it was raining, she dropped into a cab and was whirled out of the streets of the Village—which still suggested, at least, some faint memory of the individual life—into the grim publicities of midtown Manhattan. Blocks and squares and exclamation marks, stone and steel and glass as far as the eye could see; everything towering, lifting itself against though by no means into, heaven." In this passage, Baldwin conjures the biblical image of the tower of Babel, posing New York as an intrusion into heaven and an abomination.
Going to Meet the Man Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Going to Meet the Man is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.