A Historical Reading of “Words”
In Amiri Baraka’s “Words” the reader is made privy to the inner voice of a man as he struggles to move from his past , “now that the old world has crashed around me” (Baraka 34), and reflects on what he will become, “the purpose of myself , has not yet been fulfilled” (Baraka 34). The imagery used by Baraka in the beginning paragraph paints this inner voice as a dark and lonely place starting with the beginning line that states starkly that it is raining. Throughout the story Baraka continues this imagery with the repetition of words such as cold and alone.
Taking a closer look at the biography of Baraka, specifically the events of his life in 1965, illuminates the story “Words” and sheds light on his portrayal of the protagonist’s thoughts of being cold and alone. In the year 1965 Malcolm X, a major contributor to Baraka’s political beliefs, is assassinated. Baraka abandons his white wife and close knit circle of fellow writers, thus making a clean break from white society and the traditional white writing style. “Words” is more than just the story of a man’s internal struggle with change. “Words” is the story of Baraka’s shift from a beat writer in a white society to a writer with a defined political stance centered in Black Nationalism. Baraka is revealing through stream of conscious narration his own thoughts as to why he made this abrupt shift and compelling the reader to stand up and do the same.
The opening line of “Words” states that Baraka’s “old world has crashed” (Baraka 34) around him. This line offers an immediate parallel to the author’s life. Everything that he thinks he knows is now changing. But what could spark such an abrupt change? According to the Norton Anthology of African-American Literature edited by Henry Louise Gates Jr. and Nellie Y McKay, a trip Baraka took to Cuba in 1960 was the start of this shift. Baraka is quoted as saying “Cuba split me open…a turning point in my life” (Gates 1937). It was...