The Interpersonal Struggles of David
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.
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