New African by Andrea Lee Essay

Pages: 6 (2198 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 0  ·  Level: College Freshman  ·  Topic: Literature  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] Human nature

Shows how many behave in specific circumstances

Reading everything but the Bible.

Exercise 5.6C: Evaluative Essay

Directions: Now that you've finished the reading in your textbook, you'll write an evaluative essay offering your well-considered judgment on a piece of literature. Your focus work can be anything you've read during this course or outside.

This essay is not just an opinion though; you offer your evaluation and then support it with reasons and evidence to support your reasons. It should be at least (5) five paragraphs long.

Calculating the value of literature is much like calculating the value of a work of art -- it's mostly personal taste with some somewhat objective criteria (golden ratios and such). So what makes a good book? Mostly, that's up to you. Did you enjoy reading it? Did it meet your objective in reading? Why you read has as much to do with the quality of the work as the work itself. However, in order to equitably evaluate literature, we need to look at why a writer writes, and not just why readers read. If Socrates is to be believed, only the examined life is worth living. Considering how enduring that thought has been, it probably has some merit, and we can apply that to why writers write -- to examine life. A piece of prose or poetry that somehow makes us see -- as writers and readers -- the truth of who we are, good and bad. That's the literature worth reading. James Baldwin's Autobiographical Notes are an enduring piece of literature because they are an examination of his life that teaches us something about our own.

From the outset of the Notes, Baldwin states that, "The story of [his] childhood is the usual bleak fantasy, and we can dismiss it with the restrained observation that [he] would certainly not consider living it again." Maybe we don't all come from homes with a plethora of babies, but it's safe to say that we are all disappointed with our childhoods in some way, and the perplexity is why we all feel like we're the only ones. The understated tone with which Baldwin says his childhood sucked makes you examine your own attitudes and see just how silly it is to dwell on the fact that life wasn't sunshine and daisies growing up. Life is how it is -- get over it.

Just moments after you read that, you read that Baldwin read everything he could lay his hands on, "except the Bible, probably because it was the only book [he] was encouraged to read." We can all chuckle at that and remember times when we refused to do something specifically because we were told -- didn't matter if we knew we should or even if we actually wanted to do whatever it was. We wouldn't do it because we were told and we are independent, self-assertive, intelligent beings, by golly, with no need of direction from the inferior intellect of our parents.

Finally, Baldwin says something very telling which doesn't necessarily reflect all our lives but teaches us a thing or two about the way we treat others. He says he doesn't "like people who like him because [he's] a Negro; neither [does he] like people who find in the same accident grounds for contempt." It is very easy to judge people based on surface observations, or to criticize them according to some arbitrary criteria. Most of these initial observations you can make of people are accidents of nature and circumstance. You can't see a fat person in a grocery store buying chips and think, "Really? You're buying that? No wonder you're fat," because you don't know anything about that person other than that they're overweight. You can't like a person because he's an only child or dislike a person because he's an only child. You can only judge people according to their actions -- what they do to affect the world around them.

There are many, many other examples of examination-provoking thoughts in Baldwin's Autobiographical Notes that attest to the value of this work in the pantheon of literature. If the examined life is worth living, then it is… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Cite This Essay:

APA Format

New African by Andrea Lee.  (2011, October 10).  Retrieved February 16, 2019, from

MLA Format

"New African by Andrea Lee."  10 October 2011.  Web.  16 February 2019. <>.

Chicago Format

"New African by Andrea Lee."  Essay.  October 10, 2011.  Accessed February 16, 2019.