James Baldwin’s 1962 novel Another Country takes place in mid-nineteenth century New York City, with substantial portions set in Greenwich Village. His characters are jazz musicians, poets, writers, singers–generally falling under the category of “bohemians.” Baldwin’s Village is not the happy-go-lucky place it is often portrayed to be in things I’ve read. Baldwin portrays it to be just as dangerous, stifling, and hypcritical as the rest of America. Two sets of mixed-race couples are at the center of the novel, but it isn’t easy for them to be together even there:
A young couple came toward them, carrying the Sunday papers. Rufus [African-American] watched the eyes of the man as the man looked at Leona [white]; and then both the man and the woman looked swiftly from Vivaldo [white] to Rufus as though to decide which of the two was her lover. And, since, this was the Village–the place of liberation–Rufus guessed, from the swift, nearly sheepish glance the man gave them as they passed, that he had decided that Rufus and Leona formed the couple. The face of his wife, however, simply closed tight, like a gate (29).
Baldwin is skeptical of the Village; in his hands, the neighborhood takes on a sinister cast. Rufus and Leona come to tragic ends. Another Country is excellent for many reasons, but might be of particular interest to our class because of the Village setting. It may or may not be more realistic, but it certainly provides a different perspective from what we may have been reading.