The essay seems to start out within the narrow confines of history expanding in scope. The last part engaged me the most as I was drawn into his one-side conversation with his son. When Coates goes to Paris and experiences a different culture it gives him a different perspective, his views expanding on previous questions bigger than himself. Or maybe after reading about the extreme fear and violence he dealt with in the beginning of the book, I felt like I could breathe a bit when he goes to college and becomes a parent. Like I said, it is an intense essay. In his travels to Paris he describes feeling outside of the country, looking in. How he is not a part of that culture's dream: "I was an alien, I was a sailor-landless and disconnected. And I was sorry that I had never felt this particular loneliness before - that I had never felt myself so far outside of someone else's dream." I live overseas, and it is a good description of the isolation an expat might feel living in a different culture.
Coates was inspired to write this essay after reading James Baldwin's 1963 book, "The Fire Next to Me" where Baldwin has a dialogue with his fifteen-year-old son on what it means to be black in a country where white oppression has existed since its birth. An excellent comparison can be found in this New York Times article. I now have a better understanding of black violence today and its connections with slavery. The stream-of-consciousness writing meanders sometimes, but I have a meandering brain so take that with a grain of wheat. Coates doesn't believe in hope for a better future. Hope isn't tangible enough for him. Instead, he tells his son to focus on the struggle, because "the struggle" is the only thing that can be controlled. He also insists that the questions matter more than the answers. He challenges the reader in unexpected ways through a harsh reality. A diverse voice that adds to the rich tapestry of literature.