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JBreligion

At the end of Baldwin's 1952 novel Go Tell It on the Mountain, John Grimes, the young protagonist, has an epiphany or what is more commonly referred to as a visionary conversion experience, a staple of American religious life. He embraces Jesus and endures a state of ecstatic mysticism in which he experiences "his drifting soul ... anchored in the love of God" (204). John's rebirth in Christ, his being "saved," is an affirmation of one of the strongest bulwarks in the African American community during slavery, and especially since its abolition: the black church. (2) Baldwin has said that "everything in Black history comes out of the church." It is "not a redemptive force but a `bridge across troubled water,'" Kalamu ya Salaam interviewing Baldwin responded. "It is how we forged our identity" (Pratt and Stanley 182). The church is the African American's inheritance. Black writers and the characters they create are not so easily divested of it, nor should they be. Though John Grimes's commitment to Christ is representative of black assimilation into American (white) culture, this adoption of Christian beliefs not only helped the community forge a stronger connection to their country and society, but it also enabled slaves and then emancipated Africans to shore up their sense of self-worth and value. African American literature, according to Abena P. A. Busia, "has therefore become a drive for self-definition and redefinition, and any discussion of this drive must recognize this, its proper context: We are speaking from a state of siege" (2). John Grimes's journey over the course of Go Tell It onthe Mountain mirrors this movement from imprisonment to freedom, from a vague sense of self to a greater consciousness not only of who he is and might be but also of a readiness to start out on the journey to know more. (4) An essential component of this knowing comes from his visionary experience, which, while it helps to place John on the bri...

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