Everybody Plays the “Fool”

As we approach the end of Go Tell It on The Mountain, I want to think further about two disputes that Baldwin considers in the text, both which can be represented by the word “fool.” First, in his rant to Elizabeth about his father, Roy scoffs at his mother’s claim that the children are lucky to have a father like Gabriel, saying, “Yeah, we don’t know how lucky we is to have a father what don’t want you to go to movies, and don’t want you to play in the streets, and don’t want you to have no friends…We so lucky to have a father who wants us to go church and read the Bible and beller like a fool in front of the altar” (Baldwin 22). When Roy uses the word “fool,” he critiques churchgoing people who praise God energetically. Though this critique seems directed at religion, or at least Pentecostalism, generally, it is embedded in a generational dispute. Repeatedly in Go Tell It on The Mountain, children want different things for their lives than their parents do; for example, Florence rebels against her mother’s wishes and Elizabeth hides her life from her family. The relationship between the parent and child around goals for the child’s future is an interesting trope in this book and it will be interesting to see where Baldwin falls on this dispute.

However, Gabriel is not the only “fool” in the novel. Later in the text, John uses the word when he remembers that “the fool has said in his heart, There is no God” (Baldwin 77). This use of fool here refers to religion. As the saying goes, the disbeliever is foolish. Yet Roy’s earlier quote seems to assert the opposite, claiming that the believer is the foolish one. One can easily recognize fools among both religious and non-religious circles, but the central question deriving from these two uses of the word “fool” is whether Baldwin sees religion itself as foolish. Though he seemingly has a more nuanced belief about religion, his positioning on this issue is unclear at this point in the text.