“Giovanni’s Room” Gay Criticism, Neglecting Hetero-normative Ideals
David is consumed by his inner conflict and confusion over personal sexual identity. This ambivalence causes him to neglect heteronormative family, relationship, and masculine norms, leaving him stuck in liminal spaces within society and himself.
After David learns Hella’s return is imminent, he feels apprehensive but also relieved, believing he will now be forced to end his relationship with Giovanni and fall into a solid, predictable relationship with Hella. The notion a woman is required for living a productive and happy life is imposed on David, weighing on him. His father hopes “Is it a woman, David?”(Baldwin 91). A motherlike caretaker suggests “you must go find yourself another woman, a good woman…get married, and have babies. Yes, that is what you ought to do.”(68). David neglects this clear staple of society, unable to continue a sustained relationship with Hella. After all Hella’s sophisticated deliberations on female life, in a last desperate plea, she gives in to the idea of the domestic sphere, believing it the way to happiness. “I want to get married, I want to have kids” “David, Please let me be a woman…take me. It’s what I want.”(161). Hella desires the creation of a happy, heteronormative life through man and wife, mother and father, and David is unable to do such a thing. What David discovers is he is simply unable to conjure up any real sustainable desire for Hella. “It seemed to happen all at once – I suppose that only means it had been happening for a long time…All that had once delighted me…turned sour on my stomach”(158). In the end, David finds “It seemed my body next to her warmth, her insistence…would never awaken…I had moved out of it…I watched my body in a stranger’s arms” (162). David can never create a nuclear family, this normal family ideal is not possible for him, leaving him alone in a future familial no-man’s land.
David’s relationship with Giovanni brings David candid happiness, negating heterosexual ideals pertaining to the dynamic love between men and women found in relationships. “I Loved him. I do not think that I will ever love anyone like that again.”(112). Tragically, David’s neglecting this relationship ideal, his going against the grain, causes any happiness to be quickly destroyed by guilt, shame, and self-hatred. David reflects: “In the beginning, our life together held a joy and amazement which was newborn every day.”(75). Jacques urges David to stop resisting and open the possibility of real happiness the homosexual relationship can bring “If you will not be ashamed…Love him and let him love you.”(57). David proves incapable of following Jacques’s advice. David has strong feelings for Giovanni, but feels the need to want to desire women. David believes he can forget his feelings for Giovanni, and withdraws. “What kind of life can two men have together, anyway?”(142). Later David learns he is unable to force his attraction to Hella. Distraught, she asks what he wants. David, defeated, responds “I don’t know. I don’t know.”(161). Unable to choose between a rock and a hard place, unable to let or believe he can love Giovanni or really love Hella, leaves David fraught with uncertainty“…absolutely cold with terror over the question of my life.”(83). Ideals of what constitutes a normal relationship, and the cognitive dissonance produced when David neglects them, being torn between guilt and shame of attraction to men and his wish to be straight undercut by his sexual apathy towards women, leaving him stuck in a undefined liminal sexual identity he refuses to escape.
David, despite wishing at some points to take on to take on the role of what is seen as manhood, never does so. Recalling his father’s quote “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things”(168). David tells himself in order to obtain manhood, he must ignore his attraction to men, which he sees as stemming from his boyish sexual encounter with Joey, as nothing but a ‘childish thing’ and grow into manhood. David wants to have possessives as the man of the household, wanting “…my manhood unquestioned, watching my woman put my children to bed.”(104). People around David know this, and know him well enough to see his delusion. Jacques mocks him “I was not suggesting that you jeopardize, even for a moment…that immaculate manhood which is your pride and joy.”(30). David never fulfills his wish to ‘put away’ his sexuality or achieve being the man of the house with the perfect family, leaving him very irresolute. When David attempts to prove himself capable of being with a women in his affair with Sue, it is her who takes on a leadership role, exuding more stereotypical masculine aspects, showing little sensuality and femininity with “small breasts…hair cut very short.”(95). It is Sue who initiates the sexual encounter “Come along”(98). With Hella, David is not ever in a masculine role. Hella also knowingly mocks his idealized fantasy “…I can be-your obedient and most loving servant. I felt cold. I shook my head…I don’t know what you’re talking about.”(126). In their final confrontation, When David is silent, Hella says “Women are waiting for the man to speak. Or hadn’t you heard.”(164). David never succeeds in taking on a typical dominant male role in any of his relationships, leaving him incapable of knowing his function in a sexual partnership.
David does not know how a man should act in a relationship or then as a member of society, other than as the powerful head of the household, and if he is not, then David believes he is left without a space to exist in relationships and in the world as a whole, unsure and indecisive of his identity as a ‘man’.
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David is consumed by his inner conflict and confusion over personal sexual identity. This ambivalence causes him to neglect heteronormative family, relationship, and masculine norms, leaving him stuck in liminal […]