Giovannis Room

Passivity and Social Membership in Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

Belonging and being a member of a society or culture, requires a certain degree of passivity. Parents, teachers, adults who are accepted members of society, raised children to become part of the culture. Children are expected to learn these ideals and replicated it as they grow up. Thoughts, customs, traditions are passed on and embedded within children. As children, they internalize these without much thought; it simply becomes an imitation game. In this way, children reproduce these ideologies without thoughts, a very passive action. However, at a certain age, once the children had enough knowledge and tools to think and reason for themselves, they begin to question social norms. From that point onwards, it becomes a constant battle of fitting in and still maintaining a sense of individuality. It is still possible to be an individual as long as it is still within the norm, such as an extremely well known, one of a kind scientist or Hollywood star. Science and arts are accepted in society; they still are members of society. What happens when the need and want to be an individual forces one to be an outsider? The younger someone is, the more acceptable it is to be an outsider. Children at the bridge as between childhood and teens, leading into adulthood, battles with wanting to be themselves and constantly being forced back into society. On the other hand, adults who have certain traits that are undesirable to society are actively trying to keep those hidden so they can continue to be members of society. However, even in this struggle, passivity is still required. In James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, passivity becomes the primary tool for the characters to fit themselves back into membership of society. Through passivity, society is able to contain these characters into the accepted norms, thus, forcing and allowing them to be members of society.

The protagonist, David, starts his narration by reminiscing about his past. There’s a sense of regret underlining throughout the beginning, a regret of too many lies. David noted that he’s “too various to be trusted” (Baldwin, 5). The façade he put forwards contains too many changes and lies that keeps him alive and a member of society. This act of lying and changing himself to fit the norm require David’s active participation and knowledge of his surroundings and the people he interacts with. Yet, he has done with too many times that for him, it requires no more effort. It became an automatic response. The lies that spout out of him flow out without his conscious action. This becomes a form of passiveness on his part. David is passively lying and changing himself because this action has become so ingrained into him.

Despite his regret, he does nothing to change his actions. Throughout the novel, David regrets many of his actions, yet, he is passively letting it pass by him, without trying to truly correct his lies. David consistently runs away from his problem, preferring to ignore it rather than face it, as an adult would. By ignoring it, he is allowing society to cover up his mistakes, his differences, and his outsider ideologies. One of the first instances of this occurs with Joey. Joey is a boy whom David had his first gay sexual relationship with. David reflection upon the moment describe it as “an act of love” so filled with “joy” (8). In this instance, it appears as if David is no longer acting and lying to himself and the world, or rather, Joey. David had fully given himself over, actively engaging in this activity. However, just as quickly and easily as his lies slip out, so does his fear of being an outsider. He immediately becomes aware that “Joey is a boy” and Joey’s “body suddenly seemed the black opening of a cavern” (9). In David’s eyes, Joey’s body became a sight of darkness, enclosure, containment, and death. The knowledge forces David to once again put up an act and drove David away from Joey. The action of love itself was an act of passivity as David willingly and fully delve into, letting his emotions control him. He was going with the flow. Nevertheless, in the morning, once David wakes up, so do all his fears. David runs away and completely avoided Joey. Despite avoiding Joey, David “would have been very happy to see him” (9). If David would have been happy, why passively wait for Joey to come to him? By not seeking out Joey, David can continue to lie to Joey and himself, that what transpired means nothing, perhaps nothing more than a little curiosity. David is passively allowing the event to pass by as he continues to lie and change himself to fit in. There’s a part of David that regrets hurting Joey, but David will never act upon that regret because to do so would mean to accept his action, an action that is unacceptable within societal norms. This action forces David farther away from society and really cast him as an outsider. In order to fit in and to continue being a member of society, David has to let it go. The action of letting something go is a passive action.

Most children learn about what is acceptable within a culture through their parents first and foremost. David’s mother died when he was still young. He lives with his father and his aunt. David notes that his father “would be reading his newspaper, hidden from me behind his newspaper” (11). This creates an image that David is an outsider; his father is the member since he is reading the paper, keeping himself in tune with the world. As a child, David is not necessarily a true member of society yet. David understanding of the world then, is through his father. His father’s action is very passive. His father simply sits and read the newspaper, ignoring everything around him. This action then plays out throughout David’s life. As a child seeing this, David embeds this action within, thinking that it is normal action of being a man. Throughout the novel, David is seen ignoring his troubles and hiding away from his responsibilities, even if he regrets such actions. His father is doing the same thing here. David’s father ignore everything, and when David’s aunt, Ellen tried to confront him, he only reply with “strain and exasperation” (13), signifying that he is tired and does not want to deal with his problems. David replicates his father’s action throughout the novel. Additionally, David is the child and as a parental figure, his father should be more involve and active in David’s life, yet, by reading the newspaper, his father is playing a very passive role and not really taking care of David, who is his responsibility. He would much rather put his time and focus on being a member of society by reading the paper and keeping himself updated within his world. Like so, David also figuratively hides behind the newspaper throughout much of his narration, duplicating his father’s actions.

The setting of the novel takes place in France, rather than in the United States. France, Europe in general, is what people considered the Old World while United States, particularly New York, is consider the New World. David grew up in New York and New York is a place of constant movement and activities. When talking to Giovanni, David describe New York as “very high and new and electric – exciting”, very “twentieth century” and that in New York, “there’s such power there, everything is in such movement” (33). In contrast, Paris is seen as “old” and “all the time gone by” and David cannot help but wonder what will happen “when everyone is tired, when the world – for Americans – is not so new” (33). This contrast between new and old is also a contrast between movement and action versus inactivity and passiveness. Young people are synonymously associated with constant movement and action. New York is where everyone goes. New York has become a center of actions. On the other hand, Paris, with its’ images of old age, is seen as passive. This novel was also written after World War II, where Germany controlled Paris for a time. Paris is weak, old, and broken. This conjures up images of inactivity, just letting the world pass by. Compare to New York, people in Paris are slower, more incline to sit back and enjoy rather than constantly moving and bustling about. New York is also a city of immigrants. It is constantly changing and taking in new ideas into its society. It builds taller and taller buildings, reaching, testing, and risking the limits of mankind. Paris is a city of the old, a city of leisure, calmness and also pain and hopelessness when compare to New York. David recalls Paris with its darkness, only going out at night, a place “infested with vermin” (49) and Hella remarks, “it’s cold out here in the Old World” (134). David, despite pouring all his effort into lying and keeping up a façade, is very much a passive member of society. He contains his queerness by ignoring it. David always ignores the consequences of his actions and his lies. It is only fitting that David leaves New York behind for Paris. He refuses to acknowledge his problems, so instead of risking a change in the city of constant movement, David fled to Paris, a city belonging to the Old World, a city decimated by war and filled with pain rather than hope.

Similar to David, Giovanni is also running away from his problems, and he too, runs to Paris rather than somewhere new and exciting. Giovanni told David about his past in Italy, where he grew up in a “very old” (138) village. He had a female lover and the day he ran away, Giovanni had just buried his baby. He ran to Paris, a city where he “will surely die” (140). Giovanni grew up in an old place, with its tired and worn out images only to end up somewhere just as worse. Giovanni is contained in passive cities, confine so that he will continue to be a member of this society. Additionally, the image of a female is one of motherhood. Giovanni’s female lover cannot be a truly be mother and act out her duty as a female in society without a living child. In a way, Giovanni had failed in his duty as a man to provide a child for his wife. He failed as a member since he was unsuccessful in doing something expected of him as a member in this culture. Like David, instead of facing his problems, he ran away, leaving his responsibility behind and letting the troubles passed by him. Ironically, Giovanni rush into a relationship with David and live a live of constant activity and being presence in the moment. Giovanni’s activity creates a space for his passivity. He wants to ignore and even forget his fast. Forgetting is a passive action, one that happens without conscious thoughts. He is trying to forget his child in a broken city. More importantly, he is trying to forget his failure to provide and fit himself back into society and the idea of manhood.

Another character that exhibits this is Hella. Hella constantly travels and when David asked her to marry him, she said “she would have to go away and think about it” (5). In the beginning, Hella is an outsider. She is living her life and not confiding herself to the idea of what it means to be a woman, that is to be a wife and a mother. Womanhood is seen as a passive role whereas manhood is an active one. Hella refuses to accept these roles. She is the one who is active in the relationship here. She does not want to confine herself yet. However, at the end, Hella begs David to let her “be a woman” because it is “all I want. I don’t care about anything else” (161). She goes on to say “don’t throw me back into the sea, David. Let me stay here with you” (161). There is a change in Hella. In the beginning, she was full of action and adventure, but now, she has become a passive girl, begging David to let her fulfill her role as a woman. She is letting her action create room for her inaction. At the same time, she realizes that she can no longer be an outsider. In order for her to continue, she must conform. In conforming, she’s becoming passive, letting herself be molded back into society.

When Guillaume’s death became known, David express regret. He claims that he feels responsible, but he knows it’s not his fault. David distance himself from everything as the guilt bears him down. David imagines the event that leads to Guillaume’s death (154) and by imagining, David reaffirm that he was not there, he could not have possibly done anything to stop Giovanni. Much like Joey, David left Giovanni behind and while they do see each other, it was only in passing. Also, like the situation with Joey, David could have visit and seek Giovanni out, but David chose to be passive and just stand by as the world pass him. Joey left town after a while, never to be seen again, yet David can still remember him. Giovanni is killed but David will always remember him. Instead of running away to Paris as before, this time, since he is already in the Old World, David tear the envelope containing Giovanni’s execution date and watch it leave, just as he has left the New World behind for the Old World in the beginning.

Throughout the novel, David narrates his past, one fills with regrets and pain. However, David refuses to take any actions, rather he is content with being passive and continuing with his lies. In a lot of ways, David is still a child. Children are given the necessary ideas and tools to be successful members of society. They replicate these ideologies and behavior without much thought, simply doing it because the adults around them do it. Children are passively recreating society. David, with his refusal to act upon his regrets, simply reproduces what he had learned. His passivity allows for his membership into his culture and society. The only way to be members of society is by being passive.

Read more

Giovanni’s Room, by James Baldwin: Existential Identity Crisis in the Novel

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

The Existential Identity Crisis in James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room (1956)

I encountered a lot of people in Europe. I even encountered myself. – James Baldwin James Baldwin was an American novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic. Baldwin’s novels and essays are most famous for its complexity of racial, sexual, and class distinctions in Western societies during 20th century America. His novels and plays portray essential personal dilemmas with social pressures stopping the integration of black, gay and bisexual men, while also portraying deep internalized issues of these individuals and their quest for acceptance. These characteristics are seen in Baldwin’s novel, Giovanni’s Room. In his novel, the main character, David, faces many existential identity crisis’ with his nationality, role in society, and sexuality.

During this time period, the 1950’s, many things in society changed. This was a result of World War II. During the war, men and women, black and white, played equally important roles. When the war ended, people wanted women and black people to go back to their previous positions in society. However, the minorities did not agree with that and they wanted to work and be as equals again, since everyone was equally important and needed on the battlefield. Therefore, for groups that were discriminated against in the past, particularly women and blacks, World War II was a provocative model for future change. As a result, many social norms changed. For example, the state created many job opportunities, which were seen as “women’s work.” These jobs were available for nurses, midwives, cleaners and clerical staff. Additionally, during this period banking, textile and light industries also expanded and provided women with opportunities in clerical, secretarial and assembly work. However, jobs were still strictly segregated by gender and repetitive routine work was considered women’s work.

In Baldwin’s collection of essays, Notes of a Native Son, tells the reader about the social environment in the United States during the Civil Rights Movement. Through his work, the conditions of being an African American living in a society with racial discrimination are told firsthand. In one of his essays included in the book, “A Question of Identity,” he talks about the search of the various ways that Americans in the American student groups in Paris relate to European and their own culture.

Here he examines American soldiers living in Paris, studying at the universities on the G. I. Bill offered to them after the war. He studies the question of why some of the soldiers are successful in adapting to their lives in France and why some are not.

Journey to Atlanta 6 Baldwin concludes that the conflict that the soldiers must deal with is based on the clash between reality and fantasy. Some soldiers, he claims, have an imaginary, or ideal, concept of Paris in their minds. They have little real knowledge of the history of France, the sociology of its people, or an understanding of the language. When the reality of Paris hits them, Baldwin believes, it is then that they buy their tickets to go back home. The more successful soldier, on the other hand, takes the time to study the history and culture of France. This soldier might even live with a French family, thus encouraging a deeper enculturation. However, even this soldier might encounter problems, because the French people might also maintain a fantasy of Americans. They might, for instance, view all Americans by what they see in the movies, what they read about the government, what they dream about in connection to the idealism and individualism of the relatively new country of the United States. In the end, Baldwin suggests that an American living in Paris should use the “vantage point of Europe” to discover “his own country.”

Read more

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin and Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin: Comparative Analysis

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

Summer Reading Essay Prompt

Conventional characters can be defined as those that conform to widely held expectations. In both Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We and James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, both David and D-503 are faced with societal expectations that they are expected to uphold. In We, D-503’s obeys all the commands that he is given by the One State therefore playing a conventional role in society. In Giovanni’s Room, society’s expects David to fall within the realms of heteronormativity. In both novels, the protagonists deviate from their conventional roles by breaking society’s expectations of them. In Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, D-503’s failure to achieve individuality and break free of his stereotypical role in society depicts the indomitable role that conformity plays within society, while in James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, David’s struggle with heteronormativity portray how societal norms still remain prevalent regardless of whether conventional roles are broken.

In Zamyatin’s We, the motif of the ancient house illustrates that individual desires are highly pertinent to humanity, but they do not dominate the human tendency to conform. The ancient house is a place where the numbers of One State can observe the history of the human race. The opaque house has no windows and is the complete opposite of D-503’s home, a glass building with complete transparency. The glass home illustrates that he is transparent to society. When D-503 is in this ancient house, it is the first time he is not being observed by all of society and in turn is not faced with the conventional expectations of conforming to the One State’s standards. He ultimately breaks the law and the expectations of ultimate conformity by having sex with I-330 without a pink ticket. D-503’s desire to have sex with I-330 illustrates how much influence his individual desires have over his actions. However, the time he spends in the ancient house is short lived and when he returns to his glass home, he spends most of his time reflecting on the times in which he broke conformity. Furthermore, his constant documentation of the incidents in the ancient house illustrate how D-503 must report all his actions to the One State. While he does deviate from some of the conventional expectations placed upon him he ultimately records these digressions. In this way, D-503 conforms to societal norms in which he documents all of his actions and the events of his life that deviate from conventional expectations.

In Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, the motif of Giovanni’s room depicts that individual desires only temporarily take dominance over society’s expectations. David is expected by society to be a heteronormative man, marry a women, raise a family, and live a normal life in the country. However, in Giovanni’s room, David rejects these expectations to some extent. In the room, David and Giovanni pursue their relationship and fall in love. While David does break the conventions of a heteronormative life by falling in love with a man, he also develops a domestic role in the relationship. David takes upon himself the role of cooking and cleaning, the role that is stereotypically taken up by a woman. While David does break the conventional expectation that he would be partnered with a woman, he falls into heteronormative tendencies. Furthermore, David is constantly worried about the windows in the room, concerned that someone will see him and Giovanni. This depicts David’s fear of societal rejection and it is ultimately this fear that drives David to end his relationship with Giovanni and further pursue his relationship with Hella. The desires that David portrays in Giovanni’s Room only temporarily shield his conformity to societal expectations.

The unconventional actions in both the ancient house and Giovanni’s room illustrate the power of influence within human desires. D-503 continually returns to the ancient house and ultimately helps his friend O escape from it. While D-503 chooses to stay, (conforming to societal expectations), he does acknowledge the existence of a world beyond the One State. On the other hand, David has a conflicting relationship with Giovanni’s room. He is constantly debating whether he should live in the room, finally choosing to move out without warning Giovanni. While humanity is debating on conforming to societal expectations and pursuing individuality, both novels illustrate how ultimately conformity has dominance over individuality.

In We, the eutopic setting of the One State illustrates the characters inevitability to conform. The glass homes, the prescribed jobs, and the Benefactor looming over the city are all factors that control the citizens. The One State is surrounded by a green wall which is never broken into. This green wall portrays the stereotypical roles put in place for the citizens of the One State and their instructions to never step outside of them. D-503 depicts the One State as a utopic world in which he wants to conform to the expectations however, this illustrates his indoctrination to fit conventional roles as he has never visited any other place. When D-503 is introduced to the world beyond the green wall, he waivers. This illustrates how a singular setting can lead to a belief that there is only one convention an individual can fit into. D-503 does not realize that he has a soul, the ability to choose his own identity, and break free of his conventional role in society.

In Giovanni’s Room, the setting of Paris, France, illustrates the many expectations which are offered by society and the human tendency to struggle with multiple. Giovanni’s room is placed in the outskirts of Paris, where David and Giovanni can be seen as outsiders to society (not conforming to heteronormative expectations). However, when Hella and David are together, they are centered in the middle of Paris, where their heteronormative relationship fits in. David constantly shifts his narration between the center of Paris and the outskirts. He is deciding which convention he will ultimately conform to. While David eventually leaves the outskirts of Paris and returns to the center with Hella, he remains indecisive. Even after Giovanni’s execution, David moves to another city where he has an affair with a sailor. He believes he must choose one conventional role and is indecisive on which one he must choose.

In We, D-503 did not realize that he had other options for his societal role due to the singular setting of the novel. In his mind, the only convention he fit was the one that the leaders of the One State prescribed him. On the other hand, David was placed in multiple settings and was given a plethora of conventions he could conform to. Riddled with conventional expectations implemented by his father, David escaped from Brooklyn and moved to Paris, then its outskirts, and then back to Paris. He was deciding which convention to follow, a gay man, an outsider in his society, or a heteronormative man in the center of society, widely accepted by all. On the other hand, D-503, was only given one other option, the choice to not conform to the one One State’s expectations. Both Zamyatin and Baldwin communicate that individuals must ultimately choose which societal role they will conform to based on their individual desires and exposure to different societal expectations.

Both novels conveyed humanity’s inevitable nature to conform to conventions. While D-503 was not presented with many options, he eventually conformed, although by force, to the expectation to be a loyal, unwavering citizen of One State. He exposed the ancient house and the plots of the people beyond the Green Wall. David on the other hand did not choose a singular conventional role. While he left Paris by the novel’s conclusion, his chosen convention was ambiguous. Hella catches him with a man and he ultimately confessed his homosexuality to her. His new setting illustrated that he was still attempting to find a conventional place in society. Ultimately, both Zamyatin and Baldwin illustrate how societal conventions play a dominant role in determining one’s individuality.

Read more

The Role of Father and Son Relationship in Shaping One’s Masculinity

January 12, 2021 by Essay Writer

Throughout Giovanni’s Room, Baldwin makes a series of references to David’s sense of fabricated manhood or masculinity impressed upon him by his father. In the first chapters, David alludes to the hollow jocularity between father and son. This hyperbolized masculinity from his father leads to the formation of David’s fervid belief in archetypal manhood, inducing his unconscious, lifelong pursuit of an ideal masculinity. This pursuit ultimately becomes one of the driving forces behind his actions for the remainder of the novel.

Though nameless, David’s father is the sole archetypal “man” in the entire novel, and therefore is the only model whom the young David has to form his own perceptions of what it truly means to be a “man.” In David’s childhood, David’s father was distant, and the times David interacted with him, any paternal instincts were veiled under a mask of fraternal companionship, not fatherhood: “We were not like father and son, my father sometimes proudly said, we were like buddies. I think my father sometimes actually believed this. I did not. I did not want to be his buddy; I wanted to be his son” (16). As a result, David was forced to interpret and form his own understandings of masculinity, and with no true guiding examples at his disposal, his ideologies became steeped in fictitious stereotypes of manhood.

In later stages of the novel, David’s latent search for true manhood is undeniable. His homosexual relationship with Giovanni threatens his preconceived notions of what it means to be a man, and as a direct result he retreats back to the safety of Hella’s bosom in a vain attempt to conform to his archetypal view of a perfect manhood and patriarchy. There was only one moment of true paternal sentiment, a moment that David seems to view as the only normal interaction he ever had with his father. After the car crash in the beginning of the novel, when David is in the hospital, his father, in a rare moment of what could either be viewed as weakness or strength, finally hints at his buried paternal love for his son through a simple touch of David’s forehead. “Don’t cry, he said, Don’t cry. He stroked my forehead with that absurd handkerchief as though it possessed some healing charm” (18). In a metaphorical sense, the handkerchief did indeed hold a sense of alleviation for David, but his father’s admission of fatherhood was too late. David’s ideological views on masculinity had already cemented themselves in his mind. This latent longing for an archetypal manhood is most pronounced in David’s internal struggle over his relationship with Giovanni. He longs for the sense of intimacy he feels when together with the young man; however, his consciousness causes him to balk.

While a sense of social correctness was undoubtedly a factor in David’s hesitation, Baldwin alludes to David’s terror of his carefully constructed sense of masculinity being shattered as the true reason behind his eventual flight from Giovanni. David hints at the realization of his fears when speaking of his relationship with the Italian: “I invented in myself a kind of pleasure in playing the housewife after Giovanni had gone to work ….. But I am not a housewife – men can never be housewives” (88). David’s previously unbeknownst discomfort about his role in their relationship manifested itself instantaneously; he began to see himself the light of a wife, and it was this notion which eventually threatened his view of masculinity to the extent that he saw no other option than to flee from Giovanni’s grasp in order to preserve his idealistic sense of manhood.

After his flight back to Hella, David’s superfluous rants to her about the immorality and impurity of homosexuals only serve to heighten the sense that he feels the need to overcompensate for the the crushing blow his fragile sense of masculinity took whilst living under Giovanni’s roof. When speaking of Guillaume, David reviles his character, denigrating both his personality and sexuality: “But listen, I said to Hella, He was just a disgusting old fairy. That’s All he was” (150). It is as if David feels that the only way to reconcile his manhood following his bout of ideologically immoral behavior is by vocally denouncing it. Yet his tactic only serves to confirm Hella’s suspicions of his true nature, begging a specific question: was that David’s unconscious intention? Throughout the book, David grapples with his inner struggle between bridled passion for Giovanni and his sheltering sense of carefully crafted masculinity; however, after the dissolution of David and Giovanni’s relationship, the reader is forced to speculate as to whether David has (consciously or not) chosen between the two. As his last hope for a future of an archetypal manhood walks out of his life, David is noticeably unapologetic and reticent; he has the demeanor of a man who has resigned himself to his fate. As he describes the scene, “I took her hand, it was cold and dry like her lips. Goodbye Hella” (166). That inner battle is universal; the struggles between personal sentiments and societal norms plague society as a whole, making Baldwin’s unfulfilled conclusion all the more disconcerting to the reader.

Left conflicted about David’s choice between archetypal normalcy and true nature, the reader must turn inwards to find resolution to Baldwin’s uncertain conclusion. Is nature truly greater than nurture? Will our minds unconsciously choose for us regarding decisions that are beyond our conscious control? Is our own inner sense of how the world should be strong enough to alter our own reality?

Read more

Giovanni’s Room: The Possibility Of Same-Sex Love

January 12, 2021 by Essay Writer

In James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, David is a heterosexual man with homosexual desires. This desire to be with men leads him desensitized to how he actually feels when he is with all four of his lovers – male and female. Each and every relationship he has been in gets destroyed as he tries to find a deeper meaning to his actions. Throughout the book, David realizes that his relationship and “act of love”(sex) with women is merely lust — a need to establish his sexuality; but at the same time, David deceives himself to think that his relationship with men is love when in reality his actions after being with them show that it is also an act of lust and he therefore fails to keep any stable relationship with his lovers.

David fails to keep any stable relationship with the women he meets because the relationship he has with them – no matter how long it was – is based on lust and not love. David’s lust can defined as the need to establish his sexuality. David knows this and uses Sue and Hella to establish this facade of being heterosexual and only commits to “acts of love” to reinforce the idea that he is indeed a heterosexual man.

This idea of using women to fill his sexual desires is evident when he encounters Sue. David falls in lust with Sue and starts to comment on her appearance of having “small breasts and a big behind… [wearing] tight blue jeans” and even going as far as “mentally [taking] off all her clothes. (95). By describing her physical traits and mentally undressing her from the moment that they meet, David sees her as a way to fill his sexual desire and through her, establish his heterosexuality. David acts on this feeling and offers Sue a proposition to have sex. Even though David starts to think, “what I did with Giovanni could not possibly be more immoral than what I [am] about to do with Sue,” he continues with his plan to have sex with her knowing that it would just be meaningless sex fueled by his lust (99). During the sexual encounter, he describes approaching Sue as “though she were a job of work, a job which it was necessary to do in an unforgettable manner” (100). By describing Sue as a “a job of work” which must be done in an “unforgettable manner,” David fails to make any sort of connection with her that could lead into having a stable relationship. This reinforces the idea that he does not want anything more but her body and what she can provide for him.

Although David is in the process of this “grisly act of love,” he knows that there is no connection between him and Sue; that Sue is just a one-night stand girl. It is because of this understanding that David knows that a stable relationship with Sue is just a wild thought. After committing this “ grisly act of love,” David shrugs Sue aside reinstating the idea that David does not want anything but sex from his female lovers to establish his sexuality.

As for Hella, when David first sees her, he also falls in lust with her. David thinks “she would be fun to have fun with” and states that it was “all [that] meant to him” confirming that the idea to be with her is out of lust and not love (4). The idea of it being lust is evident as David only sees her as someone who he can “have fun with,” not someone who he can keep a stable relationship with. It is not until later that David tries to deceive himself to believing that he loves Hella saying “I told her that I loved her once and I made myself believe it” (5) to further help him cope with his battle against his homosexual desires. David knows for himself that it is a lie when he tells her that he loves her, but he tries to believe it as much as he can because he does not want to question his sexuality. By questioning his sexuality, David would question his action as something based on lust to establish his sexuality, but it is in this timeframe that he does not want to question his sexuality as he wants to believe that he loves her.

It is only after Hella left did David stop deceiving himself and see the truth in his relationship with Hella. He begins to think that what he had with her was pure lust and that he is not sure if it “ever really meant more than that to [him]” (4). He also understands that he has fooled himself to loving her and making himself believe that he was in love to counter his homosexual desires. It is only in the end – after screwing up Hella’s conception of love – does David understand that what fueled his relationship with Hella is the same thing that fueled his relationship with Sue: lust to establish his sexuality.

For these lovers, he fails to keep a stable relationship because all he wants from them is sex. By having sex with them, David believes that he can establish his heterosexuality and therefore, counter his homosexual desire. This shows that David will not be able to have and keep a stable relationship with women because he only lusts after them to establish his sexuality.

As David understands that his relationship with Sue and Hella is based on lust, David believes that his relationship with Joey and Giovanni is out of love, but his actions show otherwise. This confusion leads David to a struggle as he tries to keep a relationship with his male lovers because he does not understand if what he has with them is love or the desire of lust. He fails to distinguish the difference between love and lust, but truly believes during the time of intimacy, that what he has is love.

The first instance where he struggles to distinguish the difference between love and lust is when he is with Joey. He realizes that when he touches Joey that night, “something happened in [them] which made this touch different from any touch either of [them] had ever known” (8). It is this “something” that leads David to think that what he has with Joey is love. He imagines that because it is a different “touch”, there is something more to it and this is what leads him to think that he has fallen in love. He further says that “a lifetime would not be long enough for me to act with Joey the act of love” (8). From that one encounter, David fools himself to believing that he is so in love that not even a “lifetime [will] be long enough” to show his love. But although he fools himself to believing that he is in love, his later actions proved that it was just a feeling of lust.

This so-called love that David experienced is short-lived and proves that it was not love to begin with. During his night with Joey, David describes how a lifetime will not be enough, but later says, “But that lifetime was short, was bounded by that night…” showing that David was filled with emotions that night that he deceives himself to the point of thinking that what he had with Joey was love (8). Moreover, David starts to mistreat Joey further reinforcing the idea that what he had with Joey is not love. If what he truly feels for Joey is love, David would not be abusive towards Joey.

The line between love and lust is blurred especially in the case of Giovanni. David, from the beginning, already deceives himself to be in love with Giovanni. Jacques unbeknowingly helps David believe this lie when he tells David to “love him, love him and let him love you” (57). As David continues to be with Giovanni, he tries to find good things about Giovanni so that he may continue lying to himself. Something as small as walking down the street makes David love Giovanni and believes that “for that moment [he] really loved Giovanni” (83). He believes that he really loves Giovanni in this moment because it reminds him of Joey and what they did together before the night they slept together. It is this feeling of experiencing something new that David grasps to continue believing that he loves Giovanni. But even though David fools himself, the truth came out.

The truth that David does not actually love Giovanni comes out with the passing of a boy, “Yet, at that very moment, there passed between us… another boy… and I invested him at once with Giovanni’s beauty and what I felt for Giovanni I also felt for him” (83). David, although he thinks he loves Giovanni, does not actually love him as the passing of the little boy brought him back to the reality that what he has with Giovanni is fueled by the desire of lust. By seeing the little boy, David understands that his feeling for the little boy is the same feeling he has for Giovanni and thus leads David to understand that he does not actually love him. The truth that David does not love Giovanni is later found out by Giovanni himself. Giovanni, in his fit of rage, states, “‘You do not love anyone! You never have loved anyone…’” reinforcing the idea that David is incapable of loving anyone and only wants the feeling of being in love through lustful actions (141). Giovanni continues spilling the truth by saying, “‘You want to despise Giovanni because is not afraid of the stink of love,’” further reinforcing the idea that David does not love Giovanni because he is afraid of the stink of love, while Giovanni is not. Since David is “afraid of the stink of love,” he ultimately leaves Giovanni as he is unable to love him. As David’s deception to himself is slowly being exposed, he starts to understand that what he has with Giovanni is not love, but a lustful desire. And it is in this moment that David tells Giovanni that he “will not be coming back” and therefore accepts the truth that he has been avoiding.

David’s meaning of love and lust is blurred as he deceives himself to be in love with his lovers when he actually is not. The results of this lie has led him to destroy his relationships with his lovers. Not only is he not able to hold a stable relationship, but he has scarred each of his lover: Sue believes she is a one night stand girl, Hella has been lied to and her conception of love is messed up, Joey faced abused after his sexual encounter with David, and Giovanni ended up dying. In order to keep a stable relationship based on love, the thoughts and actions of a person should go hand-in-hand, something that David fails to do with his lovers. It is not to say that David is incapable of loving someone, but it is because society’s expectation to whom a man should date that makes David incapable of truly loving someone. To fall in love is different than to fall in lust and it is this difference that people are sometimes incapable of truly loving someone.

Read more

A Father’s Role in the Damaged Masculinity of “Giovanni’s Room”

June 11, 2019 by Essay Writer

Throughout Giovanni’s Room, Baldwin makes a series of references to David’s sense of fabricated manhood or masculinity impressed upon him by his father. In the first chapters, David alludes to the hollow jocularity between father and son. This hyperbolized masculinity from his father leads to the formation of David’s fervid belief in archetypal manhood, inducing his unconscious, lifelong pursuit of an ideal masculinity. This pursuit ultimately becomes one of the driving forces behind his actions for the remainder of the novel.

Though nameless, David’s father is the sole archetypal “man” in the entire novel, and therefore is the only model whom the young David has to form his own perceptions of what it truly means to be a “man.” In David’s childhood, David’s father was distant, and the times David interacted with him, any paternal instincts were veiled under a mask of fraternal companionship, not fatherhood: “We were not like father and son, my father sometimes proudly said, we were like buddies. I think my father sometimes actually believed this. I did not. I did not want to be his buddy; I wanted to be his son” (16). As a result, David was forced to interpret and form his own understandings of masculinity, and with no true guiding examples at his disposal, his ideologies became steeped in fictitious stereotypes of manhood.

In later stages of the novel, David’s latent search for true manhood is undeniable. His homosexual relationship with Giovanni threatens his preconceived notions of what it means to be a man, and as a direct result he retreats back to the safety of Hella’s bosom in a vain attempt to conform to his archetypal view of a perfect manhood and patriarchy. There was only one moment of true paternal sentiment, a moment that David seems to view as the only normal interaction he ever had with his father. After the car crash in the beginning of the novel, when David is in the hospital, his father, in a rare moment of what could either be viewed as weakness or strength, finally hints at his buried paternal love for his son through a simple touch of David’s forehead. “Don’t cry, he said, Don’t cry. He stroked my forehead with that absurd handkerchief as though it possessed some healing charm” (18). In a metaphorical sense, the handkerchief did indeed hold a sense of alleviation for David, but his father’s admission of fatherhood was too late. David’s ideological views on masculinity had already cemented themselves in his mind. This latent longing for an archetypal manhood is most pronounced in David’s internal struggle over his relationship with Giovanni. He longs for the sense of intimacy he feels when together with the young man; however, his consciousness causes him to balk.

While a sense of social correctness was undoubtedly a factor in David’s hesitation, Baldwin alludes to David’s terror of his carefully constructed sense of masculinity being shattered as the true reason behind his eventual flight from Giovanni. David hints at the realization of his fears when speaking of his relationship with the Italian: “I invented in myself a kind of pleasure in playing the housewife after Giovanni had gone to work ….. But I am not a housewife – men can never be housewives” (88). David’s previously unbeknownst discomfort about his role in their relationship manifested itself instantaneously; he began to see himself the light of a wife, and it was this notion which eventually threatened his view of masculinity to the extent that he saw no other option than to flee from Giovanni’s grasp in order to preserve his idealistic sense of manhood.

After his flight back to Hella, David’s superfluous rants to her about the immorality and impurity of homosexuals only serve to heighten the sense that he feels the need to overcompensate for the the crushing blow his fragile sense of masculinity took whilst living under Giovanni’s roof. When speaking of Guillaume, David reviles his character, denigrating both his personality and sexuality: “But listen, I said to Hella, He was just a disgusting old fairy. That’s All he was” (150). It is as if David feels that the only way to reconcile his manhood following his bout of ideologically immoral behavior is by vocally denouncing it. Yet his tactic only serves to confirm Hella’s suspicions of his true nature, begging a specific question: was that David’s unconscious intention? Throughout the book, David grapples with his inner struggle between bridled passion for Giovanni and his sheltering sense of carefully crafted masculinity; however, after the dissolution of David and Giovanni’s relationship, the reader is forced to speculate as to whether David has (consciously or not) chosen between the two. As his last hope for a future of an archetypal manhood walks out of his life, David is noticeably unapologetic and reticent; he has the demeanor of a man who has resigned himself to his fate. As he describes the scene, “I took her hand, it was cold and dry like her lips. Goodbye Hella” (166). That inner battle is universal; the struggles between personal sentiments and societal norms plague society as a whole, making Baldwin’s unfulfilled conclusion all the more disconcerting to the reader.

Left conflicted about David’s choice between archetypal normalcy and true nature, the reader must turn inwards to find resolution to Baldwin’s uncertain conclusion. Is nature truly greater than nurture? Will our minds unconsciously choose for us regarding decisions that are beyond our conscious control? Is our own inner sense of how the world should be strong enough to alter our own reality?

Read more

Lo(ve)(lu)ST

June 6, 2019 by Essay Writer

In James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, David is a heterosexual man with homosexual desires. This desire to be with men leads him desensitized to how he actually feels when he is with all four of his lovers – male and female. Each and every relationship he has been in gets destroyed as he tries to find a deeper meaning to his actions. Throughout the book, David realizes that his relationship and “act of love”(sex) with women is merely lust — a need to establish his sexuality; but at the same time, David deceives himself to think that his relationship with men is love when in reality his actions after being with them show that it is also an act of lust and he therefore fails to keep any stable relationship with his lovers.

David fails to keep any stable relationship with the women he meets because the relationship he has with them – no matter how long it was – is based on lust and not love. David’s lust can defined as the need to establish his sexuality. David knows this and uses Sue and Hella to establish this facade of being heterosexual and only commits to “acts of love” to reinforce the idea that he is indeed a heterosexual man.

This idea of using women to fill his sexual desires is evident when he encounters Sue. David falls in lust with Sue and starts to comment on her appearance of having “small breasts and a big behind… [wearing] tight blue jeans” and even going as far as “mentally [taking] off all her clothes. (95). By describing her physical traits and mentally undressing her from the moment that they meet, David sees her as a way to fill his sexual desire and through her, establish his heterosexuality. David acts on this feeling and offers Sue a proposition to have sex. Even though David starts to think, “what I did with Giovanni could not possibly be more immoral than what I [am] about to do with Sue,” he continues with his plan to have sex with her knowing that it would just be meaningless sex fueled by his lust (99). During the sexual encounter, he describes approaching Sue as “though she were a job of work, a job which it was necessary to do in an unforgettable manner” (100). By describing Sue as a “a job of work” which must be done in an “unforgettable manner,” David fails to make any sort of connection with her that could lead into having a stable relationship. This reinforces the idea that he does not want anything more but her body and what she can provide for him.

Although David is in the process of this “grisly act of love,” he knows that there is no connection between him and Sue; that Sue is just a one-night stand girl. It is because of this understanding that David knows that a stable relationship with Sue is just a wild thought. After committing this “ grisly act of love,” David shrugs Sue aside reinstating the idea that David does not want anything but sex from his female lovers to establish his sexuality.

As for Hella, when David first sees her, he also falls in lust with her. David thinks “she would be fun to have fun with” and states that it was “all [that] meant to him” confirming that the idea to be with her is out of lust and not love (4). The idea of it being lust is evident as David only sees her as someone who he can “have fun with,” not someone who he can keep a stable relationship with. It is not until later that David tries to deceive himself to believing that he loves Hella saying “I told her that I loved her once and I made myself believe it” (5) to further help him cope with his battle against his homosexual desires. David knows for himself that it is a lie when he tells her that he loves her, but he tries to believe it as much as he can because he does not want to question his sexuality. By questioning his sexuality, David would question his action as something based on lust to establish his sexuality, but it is in this timeframe that he does not want to question his sexuality as he wants to believe that he loves her.

It is only after Hella left did David stop deceiving himself and see the truth in his relationship with Hella. He begins to think that what he had with her was pure lust and that he is not sure if it “ever really meant more than that to [him]” (4). He also understands that he has fooled himself to loving her and making himself believe that he was in love to counter his homosexual desires. It is only in the end – after screwing up Hella’s conception of love – does David understand that what fueled his relationship with Hella is the same thing that fueled his relationship with Sue: lust to establish his sexuality.

For these lovers, he fails to keep a stable relationship because all he wants from them is sex. By having sex with them, David believes that he can establish his heterosexuality and therefore, counter his homosexual desire. This shows that David will not be able to have and keep a stable relationship with women because he only lusts after them to establish his sexuality.

As David understands that his relationship with Sue and Hella is based on lust, David believes that his relationship with Joey and Giovanni is out of love, but his actions show otherwise. This confusion leads David to a struggle as he tries to keep a relationship with his male lovers because he does not understand if what he has with them is love or the desire of lust. He fails to distinguish the difference between love and lust, but truly believes during the time of intimacy, that what he has is love.

The first instance where he struggles to distinguish the difference between love and lust is when he is with Joey. He realizes that when he touches Joey that night, “something happened in [them] which made this touch different from any touch either of [them] had ever known” (8). It is this “something” that leads David to think that what he has with Joey is love. He imagines that because it is a different “touch”, there is something more to it and this is what leads him to think that he has fallen in love. He further says that “a lifetime would not be long enough for me to act with Joey the act of love” (8). From that one encounter, David fools himself to believing that he is so in love that not even a “lifetime [will] be long enough” to show his love. But although he fools himself to believing that he is in love, his later actions proved that it was just a feeling of lust.

This so-called love that David experienced is short-lived and proves that it was not love to begin with. During his night with Joey, David describes how a lifetime will not be enough, but later says, “But that lifetime was short, was bounded by that night…” showing that David was filled with emotions that night that he deceives himself to the point of thinking that what he had with Joey was love (8). Moreover, David starts to mistreat Joey further reinforcing the idea that what he had with Joey is not love. If what he truly feels for Joey is love, David would not be abusive towards Joey.

The line between love and lust is blurred especially in the case of Giovanni. David, from the beginning, already deceives himself to be in love with Giovanni. Jacques unbeknowingly helps David believe this lie when he tells David to “love him, love him and let him love you” (57). As David continues to be with Giovanni, he tries to find good things about Giovanni so that he may continue lying to himself. Something as small as walking down the street makes David love Giovanni and believes that “for that moment [he] really loved Giovanni” (83). He believes that he really loves Giovanni in this moment because it reminds him of Joey and what they did together before the night they slept together. It is this feeling of experiencing something new that David grasps to continue believing that he loves Giovanni. But even though David fools himself, the truth came out.

The truth that David does not actually love Giovanni comes out with the passing of a boy, “Yet, at that very moment, there passed between us… another boy… and I invested him at once with Giovanni’s beauty and what I felt for Giovanni I also felt for him” (83). David, although he thinks he loves Giovanni, does not actually love him as the passing of the little boy brought him back to the reality that what he has with Giovanni is fueled by the desire of lust. By seeing the little boy, David understands that his feeling for the little boy is the same feeling he has for Giovanni and thus leads David to understand that he does not actually love him. The truth that David does not love Giovanni is later found out by Giovanni himself. Giovanni, in his fit of rage, states, “‘You do not love anyone! You never have loved anyone…’” reinforcing the idea that David is incapable of loving anyone and only wants the feeling of being in love through lustful actions (141). Giovanni continues spilling the truth by saying, “‘You want to despise Giovanni because is not afraid of the stink of love,’” further reinforcing the idea that David does not love Giovanni because he is afraid of the stink of love, while Giovanni is not. Since David is “afraid of the stink of love,” he ultimately leaves Giovanni as he is unable to love him. As David’s deception to himself is slowly being exposed, he starts to understand that what he has with Giovanni is not love, but a lustful desire. And it is in this moment that David tells Giovanni that he “will not be coming back” and therefore accepts the truth that he has been avoiding.

David’s meaning of love and lust is blurred as he deceives himself to be in love with his lovers when he actually is not. The results of this lie has led him to destroy his relationships with his lovers. Not only is he not able to hold a stable relationship, but he has scarred each of his lover: Sue believes she is a one night stand girl, Hella has been lied to and her conception of love is messed up, Joey faced abused after his sexual encounter with David, and Giovanni ended up dying. In order to keep a stable relationship based on love, the thoughts and actions of a person should go hand-in-hand, something that David fails to do with his lovers. It is not to say that David is incapable of loving someone, but it is because society’s expectation to whom a man should date that makes David incapable of truly loving someone. To fall in love is different than to fall in lust and it is this difference that people are sometimes incapable of truly loving someone.

Read more

A Fading Reflection

May 22, 2019 by Essay Writer

In James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, the protagonist David grapples with his homosexuality, a part of him that he continually denies, and subsequently fails to repress. As David deals with his identity, he looks for and finds himself, his literal image, in mirrors, windows, and other reflective surfaces. This motif is symbolic of David’s split life, and his growing self-awareness. One of the clearest, and perhaps most poignant, examples of this motif occurs in the extended metaphor in the first and the last pages of the book, where David gazes into a window at his reflection on the day of Giovanni’s execution. These two connected scenes, and his disappearing reflection at dawn, represent the collision of his two selves as his life falls apart, and the ultimate union of the two conflicting versions of David into one broken, but unitary, man.

The first reference to this extended metaphor appears almost immediately. Though David is recounting the story in a flashback, the reader only knows the narrator through what has been said early in the book, and thus this early reflection of David represents the David of the exposition (3). This David is fully immersed in heterosexual culture, complete with a fiancée on her way back from Spain. His reflection is distinct, tall, and “like a face you have seen many times” (3). Baldwin makes no mistake as describing David’s reflection as the easily recognizable trope of the handsome American man. This everyman image includes compulsory heterosexuality, and David’s reflection being described as one that has been seen many times suggests that this reflection is obligatorily heterosexual as an assumed normal state. This description is also intermingled with the narrator seeing Hella in his mind’s eye, his anchor to the heterosexual world. The very fact that his reflection is clear to him in the reflection of the window shows the reader that there are two distinct images of David present. The one, the compulsorily heterosexual, has gleaming hair and is tall and handsome. The other, the David speaking in hindsight, is drunken and miserable. This true, first person narrator David is also fully aware that the coming day, and the death of his male lover, will be “the most terrible morning of [his] life” (3), separating him fundamentally from his reflection.

The same scene reconnects at the very end of the novel, but now the reader fully understands the gravity of the situation that had only been alluded to in the exposition; David has irrevocably been discovered as a homosexual man by Hella and his community, and his internalized homophobia resulted in a recklessness that directly contributed to the death of his lover. Now, “the horizon begins to lighten” and David notes, “I seem to be fading away before my own eyes” (166). The handsome reflection of his heterosexual façade begins to fade away. If the reflection in the window is the idealized version of his life, and the one that he had tried so hard to live fully, its disappearance in the brightening light is its permanent death. And thus, it only makes sense that David’s disingenuous life should be shattered by the light of the dawn of the morning of Giovanni’s death. Now, David is left only with his true self, one that he claims is “dull and white and dry” (168) when he catches a glimpse of it in the mirror. With the disappearance of his reflection, his acceptable other self, David must face the extent of his own self-loathing. His internalized homophobia now manifests in his disgust at viewing his own genitals. He is embarrassed, scared and guilty.

And yet, there is something fundamentally optimistic about the dawning of a new day as a symbol in literature. And this moment of union between David and the man he was pretending to be is also a moment of enormous pressure being relieved. David says solemnly, “I must believe, that the heavy grace of God, which has brought me to this place, is all that can carry me out of it” (169). He has hit rock bottom, but in this fall he has achieved an oneness of self that he had never possessed before in his life. Baldwin makes David pay for his cruelties by giving up his social status, his privilege and his pride, and the punishment is by no means over as David steps into the light of day to get on the train. But this dawn that washed away David’s falsities is, amazingly, also the dawn of a new life that, though it will doubtlessly be more painful and ostracized, will also be genuine.

Read more

Feminist Themes in Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room

May 15, 2019 by Essay Writer

Novels with a cast of primarily male characters can include varying amounts of feminist ideas. Although Giovanni’s Room mainly focuses on the lives of gay men, James Baldwin includes various feminist themes. Through the men in Giovanni’s Room, Baldwin showcases how socially created masculinity complexes rely on the humiliation and disenfranchisement of women. Through his main female character, Hella, Baldwin argues how women’s freedom often relies on men.

For men like David, masculinity is dependent on degrading women and femininity in general. While describing his first sexual encounter with a man, David tells of the “joy [David and Joey] gave each other that night” (8). Waking up the next morning, David describes Joey as beautiful and vulnerable, “curled like a baby on his side” (8). Because of these traditionally feminine features, the shock that Joey is a man does not immediately hit David. He becomes overwhelmed with his power over the sleeping man, feeling “gross and crushing” because of his bigger size. This feeling of power and masculinity that overtakes David is resultant of the gender roles in 1950s society, where men had the majority of the power in relationships.

David’s realization that “Joey is a boy” comes when he notices “the power in his arms, in his thighs, in his loosely curled fists” (9). David’s association of males with strength and females with vulnerability results in his own shame over not feeling masculine enough. In this way, Baldwin shows how society’s masculinization of men not only results in stereotypes for women, but in feeling of self hatred for men.

The stereotype of women as housekeepers emerges from this masculinization in society. David feels so ashamed about his sexuality, that he completely rejects the idea that men, especially himself, could do housework. After he sleeps with Joey, he worries about “what Joey’s mother would say when she saw the sheets,” implying that Joey’s mother, not his father, would be the one to launder sheets (9). Once David moves into Giovanni’s room, he cleans it up while Giovanni works, although he feels “a kind of pleasure” from it at first, he soon comes to the belief that “men can never be housewives” (88). This part of his relationship with Giovanni causes David to feel immense shame, and he accuses Giovanni of treating him like his “little girl,” disgust dripping form the word, although David willingly cleaned and “played housewife” with Giovanni (142, 88). This idea of David wanting to be powerful in a relationship extends into his relationship with Hella. He stays with her in part so that he can live with his “manhood unquestioned, watching my woman put my children to bed” (104). This is another example of how feminist ideas in Giovanni’s Room are so closely tied to ideas about patriarchy and masculinity.

David’s fixation with masculinity stems from his upbringing. Without a mother, David grows up under the care of his alcoholic, womanizing father and an aunt who his father constantly argues with. All David’s father wants is for David to “grow up to be a man” (15). Because David desperately wants to please his father, he internalizes the idea that the only way to be a man is to be a womanizer.

Baldwin uses Hella as the female perspective on the gender roles in society. Hella has an odd place in the novel, being that she is one of the only women, and also one of the only straight people in the story. For the majority of the novel, her character is used as a reminder to David that a more socially accepted path exists for him. Her character moves toward the forefront of the novel, however, when she discusses feminist issues after her trip from Spain. David cannot understand how Hella believes that being a woman is difficult, “not as long as she’s got a man” (124). Hella argues, however, that David’s response is exactly the kind of thing that make womanhood difficult. Relying on men for happiness is “a sort of humiliating necessity” (124). Hella comes to terms with the notion that she couldn’t be free until she “committed to someone” (126). Ironically, Hella’s commitment to David falls through, sending her back home from her life in Europe. Here Baldwin shows how patriarchy controls the lives of women. Women who wanted to find success in the 1950s had to make a difficult choice. They could marry “a stranger,” giving up personal freedom but having economic freedom, or stay alone and risk stability and a socially accepted life (126). In this way, Hella’s life parallels that of David, who has to make decisions based on what society will think of them.

Baldwin also points out how a transgender women or drag queens are treated differently by even other LGBT people like David. David finds these women “grotesque” and refuses to acknowledge that they are even women (27). This could also stem from David’s rejection of men taking on feminine traits, or his rejection of the entire LGBT community in general.

Although hidden under the angst and love story of Giovanni’s Room, the major theme in the novel centers around David’s shame about his sexuality and masculinity. Baldwin provides copious evidence, through David and Hella, that masculinization degrades both men and women, and adds to the harmful gender stereotypes revered by society.

Read more

The Interpersonal Struggles of David

April 23, 2019 by Essay Writer

Throughout the novella Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin, there is a struggle for David to be understood not only by society, but by himself. By showing an internal struggle in David between being able to be completely honest with the events taking place around him such as Hellas very different approach to handling life. However, David utterly unable to be true to himself and his real feelings, like whether or not to show his love for Giovanni publicly. James Baldwin shows that it is harder to critique and realize the true problems at hand when they are problems of your own.

David always seems to be very clear and concise when describing what other people are doing. Throughout the novella, it becomes more and more apparent that David has a very good grasp on how to read others and their true emotions or reasoning for their actions. Baldwin makes it clear that David knows these things when David and Hella return to Paris. David describes Hellas smile as “at once bright and melancholy. Then she suddenly took my face between her hands and kissed me. There was a great question in her eyes and I knew that she burned to have this question answered at once” (Baldwin 121). This part of the novel perfectly shows that with just a small action and some body language from Hella, David knows exactly what she is feeling, and even what she is expecting out of him. It seems to be almost second nature to David to seamlessly recognize what is going on in others minds. David also shows his ability to read other people when him and Giovanni are talking about marriage. He states that “Giovanni liked to believe that he was hard headed and that I was not and that he was teaching me the stony facts of life. It was very important for him to feel this: it was because he knew, unwillingly, at the very bottom of his heart, that I, helplessly, at the very bottom of mine, resisted him with all of my strength” (Baldwin 82). This is a very telling part of David’s relationship with Giovanni because even though he is completely in love with Giovanni, he knows it isn’t socially acceptable, so he tries to fight what he is feeling. Along with that, David realizes what Giovanni needs to make him happy, so David willingly gives up his voice and allows Giovanni to be more opinionated.

Other characters throughout Giovanni’s Room take notice of David’s inability to correctly analyze his own life and situations, realizing that he tends to be too hard on himself for the most part. For example, when David turns to Jaques on advice for how to go forward, his eyes are opened for the first time to how much happier he could be in life. Jaques notices that David is in need of help at this time and says to him “Love him, love him and let him love you. Do you think anything else under heaven really matters? And how long, at the best, can it last? Since you both are men and still have everywhere to go? Only five minutes, I assure you, only five minutes, and most of that in the dark” (Baldwin 57). At this time, David was in need of support, and having an outsider look in on his situation was very helpful. Baldwin shows that with this outside help, David is able to realize how his life would be if he chose to commit to Giovanni and be truly happy. Giovanni also begins to realize that David has difficulty looking within himself when he says “you love your purity, you love your mirror. You are just like a little virgin… you will never give it to anybody, you will never let anybody touch it, man or woman. You want to be clean” (Baldwin 141). At this point in Giovanni and David’s relationship, David is having doubts on whether he should be leaving Hella or not. Baldwin uses this to show that David’s internal struggle has become too much for him, and he needs a reality check from someone other than himself to see what is really happening to him.

Alternatively, when David is faced with internal struggles of his own, he tends to downplay them or not be completely honest with himself on what is happening. From the very beginning of the novel, David decides to hide his true feelings from everyone. When David has his first homosexual experience with Joey, David is immediately confused of what has happened and what to do with his life as well as love life going forward. David describes a cavern that seems to open up in his mind as “black, full of rumor, suggestion, of half heard, half forgotten, half understood stories, full of dirty words. I thought I saw my future in that cavern. I was afraid. I could have cried, cried for shame and terror, cried for not understanding how this could have happened to me, how this could have happened in me.” (Baldwin 9). David is not too sure of what emotions he is feeling in this moment, and instead of choosing to share his feelings with Joey or anyone else, he suppresses them completely in hopes that they will fade. Similarly, David experiences many different waves of feelings and says “I simply wondered about the dead because their days had ended and I did not know how I would get through mine” (Baldwin 103). Baldwin shows that when a lot is going on in David’s life, it is hard for him to accurately deal with everything, so even thinks about what it would be like to give up completely because of his inability to be honest with himself.

In conclusion, Baldwin uses the strong difference between David’s keen sense of what is going on with others compared to his lack of ability to be honest with himself as a way to show how society at this time made him feel he had to be a certain way. David hides large pieces of his life from society because he knows the unpleasant treatment he will get if he makes his relationship public information. Had the novella Giovanni’s Room taken place in present day, this internal conflict may not have even taken place, given the more accepting attitudes for all types of people in today’s society.

Read more
Order Creative Sample Now
Choose type of discipline
Choose academic level
  • High school
  • College
  • University
  • Masters
  • PhD
Deadline

Page count
1 pages
$ 10

Price