48 pages 1 hour read

James Baldwin

Another Country

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1962

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Summary and Study Guide


Another Country is a novel by James Baldwin, first published in 1962. The story follows the lives of a collection of people in New York City in the late 1950s, exploring themes of race and sexuality, which were deemed controversial at the time of publication.

Plot Summary

Rufus Scott is a broke African American jazz musician who lives in the Greenwich Village district of New York City in the 1950s. Destitute and homeless, he wanders the streets of the city. For the past few months, he has vanished from his friends and family. He prostitutes himself to men to get enough money for food or shelter. Before he became homeless, Rufus was in a relationship with a white woman named Leona. The relationship became toxic, and Rufus abused Leona to the point where she was institutionalized, and many of Rufus‘s friends turned away from him. Rufus runs into his friend Vivaldo, an aspiring novelist and a white liberal. Vivaldo invites Rufus to a bar, where they meet their friends Cass and Richard. Though Rufus briefly enjoys himself, he does not feel like he belongs. He wanders out of the bar, thinking about how racism and discrimination have shaped his life. Burdened by his regrets, he rides the subway until he reaches the George Washington Bridge. Rufus throws himself from the bridge and kills himself.

Cass, Richard, and Vivaldo continue to search for Rufus. They meet his younger sister Ida, who is worried about her brother. While they wait for news, Cass thinks about her marriage to Richard and their children, Paul and Michael. Richard is also an aspiring writer, but he has recently finished a novel that he hopes to publish. His work is less literary and more commercial than Vivaldo’s unfinished novel. Ida visits Richard and Cass, and Vivaldo promises to help her search for Rufus. The next day, they learn that Rufus killed himself. Vivaldo and Cass go to the funeral; Richard still cannot forgive Rufus for abusing Leona.

Months later, Ida and Vivaldo begin a romantic relationship. Richard’s book is published, and Vivaldo takes Ida to a party at Richard’s house to celebrate. There, Cass introduces Vivaldo and Ida to a television executive named Ellis, who plans to adapt Richard’s book for the television. Ellis is very interested in Ida’s ambitions to be a singer and is friendly with Vivaldo even though he knows Vivaldo does not respect him. Vivaldo’s jealousy becomes overpowering; he argues with Ida and they return home.

Eric was also friends with Rufus. For a short time, they were also lovers. Now, Eric lives in France with his boyfriend Yves. However, his acting career means that he must return to the United States. Eric loves Yves; he will travel ahead and set up everything before Yves joins him in several months’ time. In the United States, he reunites with Cass and Richard. They talk about Rufus’s death and then Eric leaves to meet Ida and Vivaldo at a concert. Vivaldo treats him like an old friend while Ida is interested in Eric because of his relationship with Rufus. After the concert they go to a bar with Ellis.

Cass meets with Vivaldo and confesses that she is not happy in her marriage to Richard. She admits that she is considering an affair. Vivaldo tells her that he is worried about his relationship with Ida; he is paranoid that she is having an affair with Ellis, but he wants to believe her assurances that this is not true. After leaving Vivaldo, Cass contacts Eric. She goes to his apartment, and they have sex. At the same time, Vivaldo tries to distract himself from his paranoia about Ida by going out and drinking heavily with some people he vaguely knows.

A few months later, Vivaldo and Ida’s relationship is becoming more tense. Their apartment feels too small as Vivaldo struggles to finish his novel and Ida works on her singing career, all with the help of Ellis. Ida and Vivaldo go on a double date with Eric and Cass, who are having a secretive affair. After the date, Eric and Vivaldo go to Eric’s apartment while Ida and Cass go out to a bar in a different part of the city. Cass and Ida meet Ellis; Ida reveals that Vivaldo’s suspicions are true and that she is having an affair with the television executive in exchange for help with her career. Cass stays with the group and then returns home, where Richard is waiting for her. They argue about their marriage and Cass confesses to her affair with Eric. Richard becomes angry and slaps Cass.

Eric and Vivaldo fall asleep next to one another. When Vivaldo wakes up, he gives into his urges and has sex with Eric. They spend the night together. In the morning, Cass telephones Eric and tells him about Richard. Eric agrees to meet her at a museum. Meanwhile, Vivaldo returns to his apartment. There, Ida sits down with him and confesses to her affair with Ellis. At the museum, Cass and Eric talk about their affair and the future. Cass understands that their affair must end as Yves will soon arrive in New York. She worries about her future and her children. In Vivaldo’s apartment, the news about Ida’s affair shocks Vivaldo. He is surprised to find how little he is emotionally affected by the news, however, as he was always suspicious. Vivaldo feels strangely inspired and begins working on his novel.

The next day, Yves arrives in New York City. The journey made Yves realize that he was arriving in a new and strange society for the first time. For a moment, he is worried how he will survive. Then, he meets Eric at the airport and feels immediately comforted by Eric’s presence.