Another Country: Reading Response

Another Country

I began annotating this novel though my simple observations of gendered language and pronouns. As Book one progressed, I noticed the Rufus’ preoccupation with Leona’s use of the term “boy” as compared to his use of the term “girl.” The preoccupation, as I have come to realize through learning more about Rufus and his friend Vivaldo, may not be an entirely simple display of dominance (which I had originally assumed). Baldwin creates these male characters very carefully, by hinting at the closeness of their relationship with each other. I began to notice this closeness after Rufus’ flashback of Vivaldo in the hospital; “From that time on, Rufus had depended on and trusted Vivaldo- depended on him even now as he bitterly watched him horsing around with the large girl in on the path. He did not know why this was so; he scarcely knew that it was so…it was only Vivaldo who had the power to astonish him by treachery” (36). The way he refers to Vivaldo resembles that of a significant other or ex significant other.
Despite, or possibly because of this relationship, the men compete with each other in attempts to enhance their masculinity. This is often at the expense of women. Rufus continues his thoughts about Vivaldo with “Jane seemed to be exactly what she was, a monstrous slut, and thus, without knowing it, kept Rufus and Vivaldo equal to one another” (36). So long as both men a woman on the side as a “distraction” of sorts, they are not pressured to be with each other in a similar way. Their relationship is less suspicious if they are involved with multiple women.
Their equality is further challenged do to their racial opposition. Because Rufus is black and Vivaldo is white they experience things differently. Vivaldo struggles to support Rufus without belittling him, and Rufus struggles to accept any help from a white person, even if he loves Vivaldo.While Vivaldo innocently gives advice, he is perceived as almost oppressive. He playfully says to Rufus “Trouble is, I feel too paternal towards you, you son of a bitch,” and Rufus responds “That’s the trouble with all you white bastards” (25). Rufus is very defensive, and rightfully so, but his inability to trust his own identity, let alone Vivaldo, leads to a disconnect that the men struggle to overcome. For example Vivaldo gets caught up in a racially compromising situation and specifically does not tell him about the encounter. He can only continue to remind Rufus that he’s not like other white people, or at least Rufus’ conception of white people. Both men are self-loathing because of the difference in both their race and sexuality. They differ from the norm, but also from each other, so they cannot find validation.
Perhaps this is where the gendered language comes in. As previously mentioned, Rufus is very aware of when the word “boy” rather than “man.” He tells Leona, “don’t call me boy” even though he calls her “girl” frequently. Rufus cannot find authority in himself because of his black masculinity. The term “boy” connotes immaturity as well as ignorance, especially for a black man, and I think Rufus knows that. He uses “girl” and “baby” as an attempt to assert masculinity and to appear in control. This control, unfortunately cannot be maintained through the language and Rufus’ search for it leads to violence against Leona. The psychology of Rufus’ character is perfectly realistic, but my question is, how can we help those who struggle with such identity issues? Vivaldo tried to use his power for assistance, but he was rejected for is lack of full understanding. Can subcultures only help themselves?