The Amen Corner

I missed reading this the first time through.  I was trying to stick to chronological order but since this play wasn’t included in the Library of America volumes (neither is Blues for Mr. Charlie) I’m coming back to it now.  I don’t have that much to say about it.  In the edition I found, there’s an introduction Baldwin wrote much later, where he acknowledges some truth to the idea that prose writers generally struggle with plays and vice versa.  This is true of one of my other favorite authors, James Joyce, whose play Exiles certainly isn’t the reason Joyce is so well regarded today.

The Amen Corner is in some ways a retread of material dealt with in much greater detail, and to much more powerful effect, in Go Tell It on the Mountain.  The action centers around a church on Harlem.  John, the protagonist in Go Tell It on the Mountain, is mirrored by David in The Amen Corner.  Both are conflicted about their membership in the church, though for different reasons.  The central character of The Amen Corner, Margaret, the church’s embattled puritanical pastor, spends most of the three acts navigating accusations of financial mismanagement and maybe theft, and also the seeming hypocrisy of having a dissolute and alcoholic ex-husband (Luke) arrive on the scene near the start of the action.

There are some affecting moments – for me, Luke and David’s fleeting conversations left an impact.  Luke explains how much he used to dream about David’s future when he was just born, and goes on to confess how little of that he’s been able to achieve, struck me as such an authentic detail…

And by the end (for me anyway) I was ready to forgive David’s mother’s alleged hypocrisy and instead understand the ways she was pushing back against the pressures that dog her, less as the confines of her position as a pastor and more as a kind of damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t racist and patriarchal trap.  Her resistance to them, then, become an attempt to defend and preserve her humanity.

Even so, The Amen Corner was less memorable than most of the rest of Baldwin’s texts.  Though that might be because I read it out of order and ended up seeing it as a kind of exception instead as a natural stop along the author’s development.

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