Confronted with the impossibility of remaining faithful to one's beliefs, and the equal impossibility of becoming free of them, one can be driven to the most inhuman excesses.
— James Baldwin
We have all had the experience of finding that our reactions and perhaps even our deeds have denied beliefs we thought were ours.
An identity would seem to be arrived at by the way in which the person faces and uses his experience.
The making of an American begins at the point where he himself rejects all other ties, any other history, and himself adopts the vesture of his adopted land.
The reason people think it's important to be white is that they think it's important not to be black.
When one begins to live by habit and by quotation, one has begun to stop living.
Pessimists are the people who have no hope for themselves or for others. Pessimists are also people who think the human race is beneath their notice, that they're better than other human beings.
There are few things more dreadful than dealing with a man who knows he is going under, in his own eyes, and in the eyes of others. Nothing can help that man. What is left of that man flees from what is left of human attention.
Fires can't be made with dead embers, nor can enthusiasm be stirred by spiritless men. Enthusiasm in our daily work lightens effort and turns even labor into pleasant tasks.
There is a 'sanctity' involved with bringing a child into this world: it is better than bombing one out of it.
The face of a lover is an unknown, precisely because it is invested with so much of oneself. It is a mystery, containing, like all mysteries, the possibility of torment.
Nobody is more dangerous than he who imagines himself pure in heart; for his purity, by definition, is unassailable.
Every legend, moreover, contains its residuum of truth, and the root function of language is to control the universe by describing it.
The most dangerous creation of any society is the man who has nothing to lose.
People pay for what they do, and still more for what they have allowed themselves to become. And they pay for it very simply; by the lives they lead.
Hatred, which could destroy so much, never failed to destroy the man who hated, and this was an immutable law.
To act is to be committed, and to be committed is to be in danger.
The South is very beautiful but its beauty makes one sad because the lives that people live here, and have lived here, are so ugly.
It is only in his music, which Americans are able to admire because a protective sentimentality limits their understanding of it, that the Negro in America has been able to tell his story.
The responsibility of a writer is to excavate the experience of the people who produced him.
It is a very rare man who does not victimize the helpless.
If you're treated a certain way you become a certain kind of person. If certain things are described to you as being real they're real for you whether they're real or not.
No one can possibly know what is about to happen: it is happening, each time, for the first time, for the only time.
You know, it's not the world that was my oppressor, because what the world does to you, if the world does it to you long enough and effectively enough, you begin to do to yourself.
It is very nearly impossible... to become an educated person in a country so distrustful of the independent mind.
People can cry much easier than they can change.
People who treat other people as less than human must not be surprised when the bread they have cast on the waters comes floating back to them, poisoned.
The young think that failure is the Siberian end of the line, banishment from all the living, and tend to do what I then did - which was to hide.
Be careful what you set your heart upon - for it will surely be yours.
I am what time, circumstance, history, have made of me, certainly, but I am also, much more than that. So are we all.
To be sensual, I think, is to respect and rejoice in the force of life, of life itself, and to be present in all that one does, from the effort of loving to the making of bread.
The price one pays for pursuing any profession, or calling, is an intimate knowledge of its ugly side.
Money, it turned out, was exactly like sex, you thought of nothing else if you didn't have it and thought of other things if you did.
The questions which one asks oneself begin, at least, to illuminate the world, and become one's key to the experience of others.
The primary distinction of the artist is that he must actively cultivate that state which most men, necessarily, must avoid; the state of being alone.
Europe has what we do not have yet, a sense of the mysterious and inexorable limits of life, a sense, in a word, of tragedy. And we have what they sorely need: a sense of life's possibilities.
But the relationship of morality and power is a very subtle one. Because ultimately power without morality is no longer power.
It is a great shock at the age of five or six to find that in a world of Gary Coopers you are the Indian.
A child cannot be taught by anyone who despises him, and a child cannot afford to be fooled.
The question of sexual dominance can exist only in the nightmare of that soul which has armed itself, totally, against the possibility of the changing motion of conquest and surrender, which is love.
If the relationship of father to son could really be reduced to biology, the whole earth would blaze with the glory of fathers and sons.
Voyagers discover that the world can never be larger than the person that is in the world; but it is impossible to foresee this, it is impossible to be warned.
Most of us are about as eager to be changed as we were to be born, and go through our changes in a similar state of shock.
It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.
The writer's greed is appalling. He wants, or seems to want, everything and practically everybody, in another sense, and at the same time, he needs no one at all.
Love him and let him love you. Do you think anything else under heaven really matters?
The only thing that white people have that black people need, or should want, is power-and no one holds power forever.
No people come into possession of a culture without having paid a heavy price for it.
I want to be an honest man and a good writer.
The future is like heaven, everyone exalts it, but no one wants to go there now.