“Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.”
Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners
Today, I read an unedited short story by Welty that she wrote for the New Yorker shortly after Medgar Evers’ death. (Thank you Adrienne for bringing it to my attention.) Written in the days following the murder, Where is the Voice Coming From? is raw - and horrific.
Welty was, of course, white. Which leads me to the question of whether the race (or any other immutable characteristic) of the writer is relevant to telling the tale. Welty’s story is told through the eyes of a white supremacist narrator. This is the same tactic that James Baldwin uses in Going to Meet the Man.
Welty’s story, though full of graphic images, still feels to me somewhat sympathetic to the narrator. That’s never the reaction I have to Baldwin’s take. Perhaps this is because he so brilliantly takes a bigot’s perception of the target of his rage’s most frightening characteristics and turns them around. Baldwin’s white supremacist monster is impotent - as if his target took his sexual prowess away. (Sexual prowess seems a common feared characteristic among the ‘other’ a bigot hates - it also figures prominently in anti-semitism.) I think this approach feels more ‘true’ than the pent up frustration of Welty’s narrator.
Is either writer ‘entitled’ to tell the story? O’Connor never shied away from race relations, though I think she largely stuck with using white character points of view. Or perhaps the question is whether Baldwin succeeds so magnificently because he gets into the “other’s” head.
Again, I will trust that O’Connor is right - that simply by surviving childhood I have enough information about life to tell stories I might not be ‘entitled’ to tell.
You can read the story at http://preview.tinyurl.com/k3aewe3