Giovannis Room

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

A Room of One’s Own Making, Both Real and Emotional

April 15, 2019 by Essay Writer

In order to truly love, one must be open and vulnerable with another person. James Baldwin’s prolific novel, Giovanni’s Room, depicts a young American man whose inability to be intimate with others because of his own learned shame is what indirectly leads to the death of his lover, Giovanni. The guiding motif of the novel is the room, both physical and metaphorical. David shares the physical space with companions throughout the novel, and coupled with it is a state of shared vulnerability. It is this state of intimacy to which David fails to open himself up out of fear, leaving his partners grasping for any sign of emotional presence from David. The room symbolizes all of David’s encounters with intimacy, and his inability to be vulnerable with another person, even if they are sitting in the same room.

The first room of intimacy is with David’s parents. Although his mother has passed away years earlier, her photograph in their living room “[proved] how her spirit dominated that air and controlled us all … the shadows gathering in the far corners of that room, in which I never felt at home” (10). In that same room is where David tries desperately to gain the attention and affection of his father, who is in the room, and yet, as David puts it, “hidden from me behind his newspaper, so that, desperate to conquer his attention, I sometimes annoyed him that our duel ended with me being carried from the room in tears” (11). David’s father shows the same behaviors which he himself exhibits later in in the novel in his adult relationships. His father is there in the room with him, but he is not truly there, which leads David to believe that intimacy is unattainable. They are in the same room, but not really.

The first time David is in a room with a romantic interest, he is faced with a vulnerability which frightens David because of his emotionally distant upbringing. David describes the adolescent encounter with a schoolmate, Joey. An evening which began as a platonic outing turns romantic when they wake in the middle of the night and become sexually intimate. In the morning, David suddenly realizes the shame he feels for being with another man. The next morning David leaves immediately with a shabby excuse to hide his true feelings. “I knew the excuse did not fool Joey,” says David, “but he did not know how to protest or insist; he did not know that this was all he needed to have done” (9). From the beginning, David is not brave enough to truly show himself. He relies on the other person to either protest or to allow David to push them away. This ambivalence leads them to make their own misguided assumptions about how David actually feels. “I had decided,” narrates David, “to allow no room in the universe for something which shamed and frightened me. I succeeded very well – by not looking at the universe, by not looking at myself, by remaining, in effect, in constant motion” (20).

This “constant motion” unexpectedly ceases when David meets Giovanni, a young Italian bartender while he is living in Paris and his girlfriend, Hella, is away on vacation. It is late one night at a gay bar when his friend Jacques introduces them. As David speaks with Giovanni that evening, he slowly opens up in a way he never has before. For the first time, it would seem that David is ready to be vulnerable, present in that room with Giovanni. As David converses with Giovanni that first evening, he begins to see the other person with empathy. “He looked at me,” says David, “and I saw in his face again something … under his beauty and his bravado, terror, and a terrible desire to please; dreadfully, dreadfully moving, and it made me want, in anguish, to reach out and comfort him” (61). This desire to comfort is accompanied by anguish because David knows how troublesome his feelings for this man are. Every subsequent emotion David has for Giovanni frightens him, spelling eventual demise for their flowering relationship.

As the novel progresses, David and Giovanni fold themselves into one another in a way that only two lovers are able to. David allows himself to be happy with Giovanni, if only momentarily, before the shame of their relationship and the reality of Hella’s return creeps in and sours David’s ability to truly be in that room with Giovanni.

I remember that life in that room seemed to be occurring beneath the sea. Time flowed past indifferently above us; our life together held a joy and amazement which was newborn every day. Beneath the joy, of course, was anguish and beneath the amazement was fear; but they did not work themselves to the beginning until our high beginning was aloes on our tongues. By then anguish and fear had become the surface on which we slipped slid, losing balance, dignity, and pride (75).

The anguish that David describes here slowly creeps in, but David says nothing of it to Giovanni for fear of facing reality. Of course, eventually it becomes clear to Giovanni that David has left the room, if not physically, emotionally. Unlike Joey, Giovanni confronts him when David finally leaves returns to Hella. David narrates:

“‘I have never reached you,’ said Giovanni. ‘You have never really been here. I do not think you have ever lied to me, but i know that you have never told me the truth – why? Sometimes you were here all day long … and you looked at me with such eyes, as though you did not see me. All day, while I worked, to make this room for you’” (137).

Giovanni blames David for not truly being there with him despite his physical presence. It is a burden of failing to acknowledge internal struggle which David puts on Giovanni, and which Giovanni fails to recognize and enables David to do.

And then there is Hella. Upon her return to Paris, David feels an overwhelming sense of relief. However, this feeling too, is fleeting, for he knows he cannot marry Hella although he has already proposed to her. He cannot commit to Hella because of Giovanni, and the self-realized intimacy issues he has. But he nonetheless enters Hella’s room. David tries to pretend things are normal at first, as is his practice in relationships. “I kept kissing her and holding her,” says David, “trying to find my way in her again, as though she were a familiar, darkened room in which I fumbled to find the light. And, with my kisses, I was trying also to delay the moment which would commit me to her, or fail to commit me to her” (121). The comparison of Hella to a darkened room echoes the elusive presence of his mother’s spirit in his childhood. He fears what will come when Hella discovers his inability to love her, so he runs away. When Hella finally finds him, he is at a gay bar with a sailor on leave. Later, as Hella prepares to leave David, she expresses the anguish which no doubt Joey and Giovanni felt, and perhaps which David felt towards his father as a young boy:

“But I knew,” she said, “I knew. This is what makes me so ashamed. I knew it every time you looked at me. I knew it every time we went to bed. If only you had told me the truth then. Don’t you see how unjust it was to wait for me to find out? To put all the burden on me? I had the right to expect to hear from you…” (164).

Hella lays out the responsibility which David has to express any issues in their relationship, and not simply wait in hopes that those feelings will go away or that the other person will address it. It is with this that Hella leaves David alone in that room to ponder his shortcomings and the reader is returned to the opening chapter where David reflects upon the events of the novel.

At the novel’s close, David is alone with himself truly for the first time. He understands that he was never able to be vulnerably present with anyone in his life because he was never able to be present with himself. He considers:

And yet – when one begins to search for … the moment which changed all others, one finds oneself pressing, in great pain, through a maze of false signals and abruptly locking doors … Of course, it is somewhere before me … Trapped in the room with me, always has been, and always will be, and it is yet more foreign to me than those foreign hills outside (10).

It is with this understanding that David steps out, of the room Hella left him in and onto the busy street, in the hopes of, perhaps, growing to understand and absolve his guilt.

While the book closes on a somewhat hopeful note, it is the optimism of work to be done, rather than the tying of ends. It is not as if David no longer feels guilty, nor does he fully understand how to repair his fractured sense of self. There is, however, for the first time a feeling of acceptance of this anguish he has felt for his entire life. David understands that he must now be alone with himself in his room and accept himself so that he might be able to truly accept and be open with others in the future. It is not an easy task, and it is one which requires David to stop the constant motion he is so used to and enter into a room of his own, and reflect upon himself.

Read more

“Can’t Buy Me Love”: Money and Masculinity in Giovanni’s Room

April 9, 2019 by Essay Writer

In James Baldwin’s novel Giovanni’s Room, references to wealth are juxtaposed with moments of sexuality in order to comment on how economic standing influences gender identity construction, while making a larger critical statement about the fragility of traditional American notions of masculinity. Following tropes of the expatriate genre, the protagonist David is seen sending away to his father for money, soliciting money from friends, staying in hotels, and constantly eating or drinking at restaurants and bars. Told through the first person point of view, each of these conventional ‘American in Paris’ scenes unveils David’s relationship with money, as it relates to his own masculinity. He struggles to maintain his self image as an American man in Paris, as he does not have the structure of a job or a marriage to create his identity against. Similarly, in the absence of these two aspects of life, David lacks power. The result is a physical and emotional displacement, as he is left on his own in a city of men who he believes are completely unlike himself‒most notably, Jacques, Giovanni, and Guillaume. The four men interact with each other throughout and it is the ways in which they use their money that distinguishes them. The male characters in the novel act as foils of each other, and David’s perception of his own masculine identity is made clear through his anxieties regarding wealth and sexuality; the two intersect in this novel, showing how David perceives money as being analogous with male power and can be used either to maintain or degrade one’s manhood.

The contempt with which David views Jacques‒man who is secure both financially and sexually‒is a projection of his own insecurities about his identity; David worries constantly about Jacques’s loudness and brash honesty, which both threaten his private fears and desires becoming public. However, David also encourages a relationship with Jacques out of a need for money, calling him up to meet for supper despite thinking him “a fool and a coward” (Baldwin 23). Although he expresses reluctance towards a relationship with Jacques‒he mentions that he only calls him out of desperation, after already writing to friends and receiving no response‒David allows Jacques to emasculate him by spending money on him. His hypocrisy is evident in an early interaction between the two: at a “rather nice restaurant,” David narrates that he had “arranged to borrow ten thousand francs from [Jacques] before we had finished our apertifs,” (26) even though he later says, “I don’t spend money on men” (30). This cognitive dissonance indicates the value David places on money‒both for what it can get him, and for what it represents to the world. He compromises his desire to assert masculinity by supporting himself financially during a time of need, while simultaneously judging Jacques harshly for succumbing to his request. This is an instance where he fears the side of himself that Jacques coaxes out of him. David rejects this idea of himself as vulnerable and unmasculine by insulting Jacques:“There was, in this tolerance of mine, a fund, by no means meagre, of malicious knowledge‒I had drawn on it when I called him up to borrow money. I knew that Jacques could only hope to conquer the boy before us if the boy was, in effect, for sale; and if he stood with such arrogance on an auction block he could certainly find bidders richer and more attractive than Jacques.” (28)He does this in order to maintain his own image, rather than to tarnish Jacques’s. He even admits his own overwhelming insecurities when he says, “I understand now that the contempt I felt for him involved my self-contempt” (23). The tension created by Jacques’s wealth and his openness about his homosexuality destabilizes David’s conception of manhood, specifically as it relates to himself, and he must rectify this disconnect through contemptuous behavior.

David’s power dynamic with Jacques parallels that of his relationship with Giovanni, except their roles are reversed. When they meet for the first time, David realizes that he has to pay for their drinks because “it was impossible to tug Jacques’ sleeve for the money as though [David] were his ward” (32). He refrains from asking Jacques for money as a way of avoiding emasculation in front of Giovanni‒another instance in which the lack of money is associated with the lack of power. The parallel between the two relationships is emphasized even further by the fact that David uses the ten thousand franc note that Jacques gave him moments before in order to pay for his and Giovanni’s round of drinks. This scene is also another example of David benefiting from the power dynamic that comes from wealth, while also attempting to outwardly reject it. This can be seen in their dialogue, as Giovanni tells him, “You are rich,” to which David replies, “But no. No. I simply have no change,” (32). He does not wish to fully fill the role that Jacques typically plays of the wealthy, older man in a relationship, but he also gains pleasure from the interaction because it gives him a sense of power. This pleasure can be seen in his growing relationship with Giovanni, as he continues to spend time with him in various bars and cafes across the city. However, their relationship is becomes tumultuous because the balance in power is quickly lost. Unlike with Jacques, there is no clear gap between David and Giovanni financially. Each is seen paying for the other at various moments. The same night that David buys drinks, Giovanni returns the favor by paying the bill for their oysters and wine. At points, Giovanni supports David‒especially after David moves in with him and remains unemployed. This peace does not last for long, though, and after losing his job, Giovanni is once again asking David to send away for more money.

The key difference between the two relationships mentioned is that money is used as a facilitator of intimacy between Giovanni and David, while having the opposite effect with David and Jacques. When Giovanni asks David if he has ever slept under a bridge, he responds by saying, “Not yet… but I may. My hotel wants to throw me out,” which he admits is “out of a desire to put [himself], in terms of an acquaintance with wintry things, on an equal footing with [Giovanni],” (46). In this moment, the equality of their financial power leads into a physical closeness, as Giovanni holds David’s hand during this conversation. However, once again David is repulsed by the idea of emasculating himself; he invalidates this intimate moment immediately after, explaining, “the fact that I had said it as he held my hand made it sound to me unutterably helpless and soft and coy… I could not say anything to counteract this impression… I pulled my hand away, pretending that I had done so in order to search for a cigarette,” (46). He rejects his vulnerability, out of fear that it makes him appear weak and unlike the image of the traditional American man against which he constructs his identity. He associates his conversation with feminine qualities and is immediately embarrassed of his appearance in the cab. He only gives into his desire for intimacy after it is confirmed that he and Giovanni are equals: the drinks, the cab that Jacques pays for, and the oysters. The imbalanced money-power dynamic between Jacques and Giovanni had previously provided him with a layer of protection against intimacy, which is stripped away in these scenes leading up to his first sexual experience with Giovanni. David attempts to protest one final time when he tells Giovanni, “I must go home… I must pay my hotel bill,” (62), but then easily accepts Giovanni’s invitation. David’s guarded nature only returns when he is once again placed in the position of power, and expected to fulfill the traditional breadwinner role of the American man. When “the money dwindled” and Giovanni began asking repeatedly if David had gone to the American Express, David becomes “sick” of Paris and wishes to leave (115). The balance in their relationship is once again lost here, and results in an emotional distance that threatens their ability to be vulnerable and intimate with each other and reminds David of his insecurities about his public image. Giovanni’s reliance on him brings him an intense discomfort and desire to once again be near a woman‒first Miss Rheingold, and then Hella.

When compared to the other relationships in the novel‒specifically, that which exists between David and Hella, and between Giovanni and Guillaume‒the relationship between David and Giovanni becomes an example of intermediacy in a money-power dynamic, while the other two relationships are examples of extremes. The former is an example of the traditional extreme, with the man taking the position of power over the woman, while the latter is what David views as the perverse extreme. This is one of the reasons that causes David’s fixation with and subsequent detest for both relationships. Initially, when David is struggling in his relationship with Giovanni, his relationship with Hella flourishes. He finally agrees to “settle down,” a prospect that at first he rejected; when he writes to his father that he “won’t keep any secrets” anymore and that he “found a girl,” he is solidifying his role as a husband (124). He projects this desire for masculine stability on Giovanni in one of their final conversations:“What kind of life can two men have together, anyway? All this love you talk about‒isn’t it just that you want to be made to feel strong? You want to go out and be the big laborer and bring home the money, and you want me to stay here and wash the dishes and cook the food and clean this miserable closet of a room and kiss you when you in through that door and lie with you at night and be your little girl.” (142)This argument is made ironic by David’s engagement, which shows his craving for the traditional image of a relationship. Their engagement allows them each to follow the rigid gender roles and expectations that have been laid out for them by their culture, creating a paradoxical space for physical intimacy and emotional distance: “We stayed in her room, we made love a lot, we went to the movies and had long, frequently rather melancholy dinners in strange restaurants” (146). David feels trapped by his role in his relationship with Hella, which is only intensified by the fact that the couple was “not rich” but living in a city that is “a playground for the rich” (158-9). Their sexual relationship also dwindles, as “all that had once delighted [David] seemed to have turned sour on [his] stomach” (158). When David loses his ability to financially support Hella, he begins to once again feel like a failure as a man. This is seen when he explains, “When my fingers began, involuntarily, to lose their hold on Hella, I realized that I was dangling from a high place and that I had been clinging to her for my very life” (158). His ability to take care of Hella and play the role of her husband allowed him to feel masculine‒the realization that he could not provide for her successfully or connect with her physically destructed the identity that he had crafted around these characteristics. He compares this loss of identity with the loss of life, as he feels as if he is preparing for a “long fall” off a cliff (158). The couple is contemptuous of each other because neither is fulfilling their perceived expected role, making them a dysfunctional match.

A similarly dysfunctional and unbalanced pairing can be seen between Giovanni and Guillaume. In a similar way to David, Guillaume fills the role of financially providing for Giovanni and taking care of him. Furthermore, Guillaume also forces Giovanni into the traditionally feminine role that David projected onto him, as well. He asserts his financial dominance over Giovanni by calling him “a gangster and a thief and a dirty little street boy” and by taking away his source of income (105). Throughout the text, Guillaume is empowered by his ability to coerce Giovanni into engaging in a relationship with him, while Giovanni is emasculated by his own desperation‒this dynamic mirrors that of David’s initial calling of Jacques when he needs money. Another paradox is introduced here, as David can be compared to both Giovanni and Guillaume, since he has filled both roles depending on his level of wealth and power. This is a source of contempt for David, which can be seen in his descriptions of Guillaume, whom he often calls a “fairy” or a “silly old queen” (155). David refuses to equate himself with Guillaume, and distances himself by insulting him in a way that is comparable to how he treated Jacques. When describing the murder scene, Guillaume is narrated as being “precipitate, flabby, and moist,” (155). David resolves the contradictions within his definitions of masculinity by projecting his insecurities about his economic standing and power, and about his physical appearance onto Guillaume. His attempts to assert a definitive image of his masculinity by maintaining a certain amount of wealth are sabotaged by his hypocrisy, which is only emphasized by his cultural displacement. By positioning David in a setting that disregards his cultural standards, Baldwin exposes his character’s reliance on social cues to feel secure in his identity.

Read more

Existentialism in Giovanni’s Room

March 21, 2019 by Essay Writer

We do not know what we want and yet we are responsible for what we are — that is the fact. – Jean-Paul Sartre

In the novel Giovanni’s Room, author James Baldwin invites his readers to journey to Paris post-World War II. The San Francisco Chronicle describes this read as, “Violent, excruciating beauty,” highlighting the stark contrast between the 1950’s Paris of American expatriates, to the glittery setting of the first wave of the lost generation. Choosing this a backdrop, Baldwin sets the scene for a highly controversial narrative of death, love, and the complexity of choice. Engulfed in the violence and liaisons of an expatriate society, a young man, David, finds himself, “caught between desire and conventional morality.” Playing upon David’s existential crisis, Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room discovers how heavy the responsibility of acting for one’s own freedom truly is.

As defined by Merriam Webster Dictionary (1828), existentialism is, “a chiefly 20th century philosophical movement embracing diverse doctrines but centering on analysis of individual existence in an unfathomable universe and the plight of the individual who must assume ultimate responsibility for acts of free will without any certain knowledge of what is right or wrong or good or bad.” To understand how Baldwin captured the existential gravity of freedom, we first have to unpack how existentialists believe freedom operates. In the philosophical theory freedom lies in the ability to choose our own values, because our values are isolated from the determination of any outer forces including divinity. Weighing what we value is how we make decisions. Therefore it is key in existentialism to note, it is a personal responsibility to recognize one’s values, and that our decisions are made with autonomy. Decisions are then followed by our actions and further reactions. Therefore we are responsible for our actions, and must learn to see how our actions caused further reactions. This is where as referenced earlier, “the plight of the individual who must assume ultimate responsibility for acts of free will,” lies. In the following paragraphs, using this structure of freedom as a guide, how Baldwin uses David’s complex situation to highlight “the plight” will become clear.

At the core of Existentialism is that freedom lies in the power to decide what has value. This is why the 1950s Paris expatriate society serves as a genius backdrop for Giovanni’s Room, keeping in mind that “many existentialists identified the 19th and 20th centuries as experiencing a crisis of values.” (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 May 2017) We can see that the 20th century was a society undergoing traumatizing changing through, “increasingly secular society, or the rise of scientific or philosophical movements that questioned traditional accounts of value (for example Marxism or Darwinism), or the shattering experience of two world wars and the phenomenon of mass genocide.” (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 May 2017) These changes forced humans kind to question the value of everything, from life to tradition. The ingenious factor in terms of Baldwin choosing this time period is that it is defined by a literal existential crisis. He is able to highlight the struggle of value and freedom, that we face on a daily basis, by using a topic as common and relatable as love. David’s story of sexual freedom as a young man whose wealth and power is linked to societal expectations, who is resisting ownership of his sexuality as a gay man by engaging with Hella and Giovanni, and who is living in the midst of 1950 Paris post World War II as an American expatriate, makes the complexity and confusion of love jump off the pages of Baldwin’s book. This exaggerated scenario of liberation drives home the theme of existentialism in relation to freedom not existing without responsibility. In order to understand how Baldwin craftily built up of David’s “plight”, we have to return the previously referenced structure of freedom as found in the Existential Movement.

Now that we understand that freedom lies in our ability to measure value, we can determine that decisions are made by weighing the value of one option and outcome to another. So as previously outlined, “freedom is in part defined by the isolation of my decisions from any determination by a deity, or by previously existent values or knowledge.” (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 May 2017) In Giovanni’s Room these external forces are identified as God , and American society. Throughout the novel David almost never uses religious language for guidance. At the end of Part One When asked by his older Italian housekeeper if he prays David stammers, “No, no. Not often.” (pg 69). And when she asked if he’s a believer he manages an odd smiles to which she replies with, “You must pray,” and an entire spiel about how getting married to a good woman and making babies, will make him happy. Not up until the very end of the book does David use religious language to describe himself and Giovanni. He envisions Giovanni kissing the cross in his last moments only for a priest to lift the cross away from him. David then speaks of his own nakedness in the mirror, “under sentence of death,” and hurrying, “toward revelation.” He closes by thinking, “That the heavy grace of God, which has brought me to this place, is all that can carry me out of it.” (Pg 169) The choice for Baldwin to end both sections of the book, with mentionings and reflections of God shows us as readers that although David may not appear devout, he allows his actions to still be lead by the amount of value elders, others, and tradition puts in faith. The second external force David allows to direct his life, is American society. For David he is constantly battling between the white picket fence, a wife and children, or living openly with Giovanni.

David is reminded of what American society expects of him through letters from his Father, asking that he come home, and Hella saying she’ll marry him. He is also affected by strong beliefs of Homophobia, since being opening gay is far from accepted, and is definitely not the expectation for a young man of his social and economic status. The effects that David allows these expectations to have on his life, are clearly seen in his relationship with Giovanni in which he unsatisfied, hostile, and distant. The truth of his actions, is best seen in Giovanni reaction during their largest fight in which Giovanni accused David of wanting him to be, “a little girl,” in reference to the perfect heterosexual American life David just wouldn’t let go of. In these cases David did not use his freedom to decide the value God and societal expectations in his life, but instead he carelessly and out fear tried to adopt the values other put on these external forces, bringing pain and suffering into his life and the lives of others. Baldwin uses this character flaw as a perfect way to show that we make our decisions independent of determination from a higher power, because it is our personal responsibility to measure value for ourselves. The next part of the structure of freedom in Existential Philosophy, is taking responsibility for our actions directed by our decisions, and accepting that our actions will result in further reactions. Baldwin outlines this struggle perfectly using David as focus point. Under existentialism human existence is not, “to be to be understood as arbitrarily changing moment to moment, this freedom and responsibility must stretch across time,” meaning that , “ freedom, rather than being randomness or arbitrariness, consists in the binding of oneself to a law, but a law that is given by the self in recognition of its responsibilities.” (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 May 2017) This is where again David falls short in exercising his freedom purposefully. Throughout the novel he lives and makes decisions carelessly, with no concern for past lessons, or future consequences.

For David, making decisions is all about how he feels in the here and now. For example, after his first sexual experience with Joey, David explains, “I had decided to allow no room in the universe for something which shames and frightened me. I succeeded very well – by not looking at the universe, by not looking at myself, by remaining, in effect in constant motion.” (Pg 20) In constant motion David never took the time to look at himself and create a personal code of values in which to make a decisions with. Instead he tried to contain the unrespectable gay side of himself, never taking ownership for many drunken nights with other men. On the balcony in reflection of all that had happened, of how close he allowed Giovanni and Hella to get to him, of the tragic ending of Giovanni, David grapples with his guilt, and starts to understand how his sporadic and disorderly use of freedom resulted in his loneliness. It reads, “Now, from this night, this coming morning, no matter how many beds I find myself in between now and my final bed, I shall never be able to have any more of those boyish, zestful affairs – which are, really, when one thinks of it, a kind of higher, or anyway, more pretentions masturbation. People are too various to be treated so lightly, I am too various to be trusted. If this were not so I would not be alone in this house tonight. Hella would not be on the high seas. And Giovanni would not be about to perish, sometimes between this night and this morning, on the guillotine.” (Pg 5) This shows that in reflection of his actions David understood that the result of his love life was not the fault of external forces or anyone but himself. In addition he admits to the idea of having the intention of finding his true self in France by saying, “But again, I think, at the very bottom of my heart, I knew exactly what I was doing when I took the boat for France.” (Pg21). Based on David’s outlook we can tell he will carry the weight of his loneliness and Giovanni’s death for the remainder of his life.

Existentialists believe that, “Freedom can usefully be linked to the concept of anguish.”(Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 May 2017) Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room perfectly captures David’s anguish as he makes the seemingly impossible choice between a falsehood of the American dream, and a great love that may never be recognized with legitimacy. Baldwin makes use of the dramatically changing 20th century in order to evoke the complexities of freedom of choice that we as humans face in situations of love, lust, or expectation: “freedom entails something like responsibility, for myself and for my actions. Given that my situation is one of being on its own – recognised in anxiety – then both my freedom and my responsibility are absolute…there is nothing else that acts through me, or that shoulders my responsibility.”

(Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 May 2017) After examining this structure of freedom in Giovanni’s Room, we can see how the book is easily used as a talking point for Existentialism today.

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