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Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin (Essay)

Might as well start on of my first posts with, dare i say, one of my favorite books? Well, i don't really expect to have a book (especially an assignment from school) to make such an impact on me, but Gawd this book does it. I swear, i was reading this while watching the elections on TV and both were just nail-bitters. Anyways, aside from the fact that i had to write this, it's also one of the few essays that i feel especially proud of, since i loved the book and srcibbled all my notes on the margins, thus, making it useless to return to my teacher since i pretty much screwed it up, but Ha! now it means that its mine :) i have problems, don't i? 


In James Baldwin’s novel, Giovanni’s Room, self contempt, and deception are explored. David is an American man living in Paris, after leaving his home to escape his issues with his sexuality. Throughout this whole novel we see how David’s denial to accept who he is hurts those around him. In the beginning we see how he has a sexual encounter with a boy named Joey when he was in his early teens. Immediately afterwards, David starts to feel the shame of having slept with a man “I was ashamed…I cried for not understanding how this could have happened to me, how this could had happened in me.” (9). and he blames Joey for making him feel those urges that bring him so much shame. The way he shows his anger is by bullying and hurting the other boy, in order to redeem himself and push away the guilt of having been involved with a man. This pattern will follow David into adulthood, especially after he meets Giovanni.

            Part of the reason why he refuses to acknowledge his homosexuality is because he doesn’t want to become one of those ridiculous older gay men he sees in the bars looking for boys, calling what they do degrading. He mocks Jacques, an older gay man who befriends him in France, about his meaningless relationships with young men, “is there really no other way for you but this? To kneel down forever before an army of boys for just five dirty minutes in the dark?” (56). His discontent over Jacques and what he does with his life is what David fears will become to him if he accepts his homosexuality. Just as judgmental as he is towards men like Jacques and Guillaume, this is what he fears his life would be, if he were ever to admit to that he likes men. It seems likely, part of David’s inability to accept his own homosexuality is the threat he will one day appear as “ridiculous” as these old gay men.

            The fear of accepting who he is ends up hurting Giovanni in the end; it was mainly the reason why he ends up getting executed. Following the same pattern like he had done with Joey previously, David begins to resent Giovanni for stirring his need to be with men, “The beast which Giovanni had awakened in me would never go to sleep again…with this fearful intimidation there opened in me a hatred for Giovanni.” (84). the “beast” that had awoken in David was the very thing that he felt ashamed of, it was the thing that he felt pure disgust for. And loving Giovanni only made that self-hatred deepen, because being able to love Giovanni meant that he was letting himself became the gay man he doesn’t want to be.

            Accepting who he really  is something David avoids to do at all cost, at one time making himself believe that he’s always wanted a wife and children, “I wanted to be inside again, with the light and safety, with my manhood unquestioned, watching my woman put my children to bed.”(104). He thinks that with marriage and children will free him from his homosexual urges. It will stop the shame and guilt and the judgment from society for wanting men will go away. David uses Hella for this, leaving Giovanni behind to go back to his fiancée when she returns from Spain. But in the end, this illusion is broken when even after leaving Giovanni, David still seeks the company of men, when he is not able (and doesn’t want to) explain the truth to Hella about himself. So even after he’s in a relationship he feels is proper and should be in, in order to repent for his urges, he still can’t smother that part of him that want to be with men, the part that he refuses to embrace.

            In the end, only the people that were used by David were hurt by his denial and self-contempt. Giovanni met his end by loving David, but realizing that his love would never be returned, “you do not love anyone. You have never loved anyone, I am sure you never will!” (141). And what Giovanni declares in his page helps explain what self-deception is doing to David, “You want to leave Giovanni because he makes you stink of love. You want to despise Giovanni because he’s not afraid to stink of love. You want to kill him in the name of your lying immoralities. You are the most immoral man I’ve met in my life!” (141). for all of David’s deception, he couldn’t stop himself from doing all of the acts that came from being involved with a man. And even though he admits to loving Giovanni more than anyone in his life (112) his actions fail to show that. He left Hella hurt, used, and alone, and his refusal to admit his own sexuality is the death of Giovanni.



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