Arguably James Baldwin's most tortured protagonist, Rufus Scott of Another Country (1962) reflects the author's view of the artist as prophet. Baldwin based him on Eugene Worth, a friend who committed suicide; like Worth, Rufus jumps from the George Washington Bridge. Ironically, Rufus's premature suicide catalyzes the other characters' physical and spiritual journeys.
A fledgling Greenwich Village jazz drummer, Rufus symbolizes American and existential loneliness; we first encounter him “peddling his ass.” Psychologically and physically eviscerated, he is rescued temporarily by Vivaldo Moore, his Italian American best friend. Rufus also finds momentary solace with Leona, a white southerner. However, hegemonic oppression engenders an acute malaise in Rufus. Leona becomes the receptacle for his racial and self hatred and goes insane. We also learn of Rufus's former lover—another southerner, Eric Jones. Because of society's constricting definitions of manhood, Rufus repulsed Eric's affection. Ultimately, Rufus's multiple demons compel his suicide, which concludes the opening section.
Rufus's spiritual deformity is symptomatic of an American ethos that constructs racial and sexual barriers. Only when characters such as Vivaldo vitiate society's restrictions can they enter “another country,” a metaphorical haven where love can exist. Rufus remains a groundbreaking figure in African American literature as one of the few suicides. Baldwin's characterization also signifies upon the discursive treatment of black men as archetypal victims, for Baldwin makes Rufus “partly responsible for his doom” (Conversations with James Baldwin, 1989).
Therman B. O'Daniel, ed., James Baldwin: A Critical Evaluation, 1977.Trudier Harris, Exorcising Blackness: Historical and Literary Lynching and Burning Rituals, 1984. Fred L. Standley and Louis H. Pratt, eds., Conversations with James Baldwin, 1989.