Religious Male Genealogy and Autobiography

Baldwin brings a lot of autobiographical elements into his writing, especially when writing about Gabriel and his quest for a male heir that he believes was ordained to him by God. Baldwin focuses on this heavily when writing about Gabriel, and I believe he is writing with the male lineage in mind when describing John as well. In all of Gabriel’s relationships, he believes he can “save” the woman he pursues by giving them his child. I believe that Baldwin thought this characteristic true of his own father, and that because Baldwin was not his own son, but a break in the lineage, he was viewed as evil by his father. But it is really the lineage of Gabriel that could be debated to be “evil,” because while John goes to church and does his chores, Roy gets into fights constantly. And it is not just Roy that gets into trouble, but Gabriel’s son Royal as well.

The narrator, describing Gabriel’s motivations behind the name of his first child, states “He had once told Esther that if the Lord ever gave him a son he would call him Royal, because the line of the faithful was a royal line – his son would be a royal child” (134). When Esther claims she has been ruined due to the pregnancy caused by Gabriel, he yells at her, saying “Ruined?… You? How you going to be ruined? When you been walking through this town just like a harlot, and a-kicking up your heels all over the pasture? How you going to stand there and tell me you been ruined? If it hadn’t been me, it sure would have been somebody else” (126). He continually refers to her as a harlot and claims he was tempted by her as if by Satan. He is unwilling to consider that it is he who is the evil part of the relationship with Esther because he views her through a sexist lens as a biblical temptress. But it is Gabriel that brings evil to each woman in his life through his desire for the birth of a son. He leaves Deborah because she is barren, he leaves Esther to die because she is not his wife, and he unjustly punishes Elizabeth’s son John simply because he is not his own child. Gabriel brings evil to all of these women through his sexual desire, not the other way around, and I think Baldwin is making a commentary about hyper-masculinity’s incompatibility with moral religion.

I feel like John (Baldwin) believes his father saw him as not good enough not only because he did not belong to his biological lineage, but also because of his homosexuality which prevented him from starting his own biblical male lineage; Gabriel’s unwillingness to view John as good even though he tries hard in church most likely stems from John’s inability in Gabriel’s mind to function as a traditional man. I believe Baldwin carried these thoughts with him while writing and is why he portrays Gabriel in such a toxic way; his shaming of women and ignorance of the damage inflicted by his own masculinity leads to sadness, violence, and death. Yet, it is masculine traits that are praised in the Bible and feminine ones which are scorned and criticized. I believe that this novel does a great job illuminating the hypocrisy of the gender roles enforced by traditional religion and how the perpetuation of these roles leads to actual damage in the lives of religiously concerned American families.

One thought on “Religious Male Genealogy and Autobiography”

  1. I also found it significant that Gabriel felt God had promised him an heir and was arrogant in the belief of his royal bloodline. There are definitely Biblical illusions to having illegitimate relations in an attempt to produce an heir. I thought this story alluded to Abraham sleeping with Hagar to have his son Ishmael. I found it interesting that although Abraham’s wife Sarah eventually has a son Isaac, Deborah remains barren. We can understand Gabriel’s relationship with John more in knowing that Roy is Gabriel’s only legitimate son and he does not view John as his heir.

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