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.
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