In Go Tell It on the Mountain, Baldwin sees the possibility of love both within the theological as well as a physical aspect. Love is something that John Grimes struggles to find throughout the novel and I’ve been wrestling with this question — besides his mother, where does he get that love?
Love should have come from Gabriel, John’s step-father and God’s messenger (going off his namesake), but it didn’t. Rather, John receives the minimum and only that — he is fed. clothed, sent to school but he doesn’t receive the love and emotional care that is necessary for one’s growth. What Gabriel presents is a message of sinfulness and eternal punishment in the burning fires of hell. To be saved from the wrath of this fearful God that Gabriel preaches about, one needs to be humble and leave behind all earthly things. Gabriel’s God is not one of love and compassion — may be because Gabriel is projecting himself into the theology. Gabriel projects a lot of hate, fear, and guilt into his theology and it’s impossible to have a loving relationship to arise from such a cancerous atmosphere and heart posture. God, after all, is about love, acceptance, and compassion. One notable point as well is that loving God and one’s neighbor in a Christian point of view requires the relinquishment of the self and power — Gabriel (and John) refuses to give up that power — rather, he is attracted to the pulpit partly because of the power and importance that it would bring him — “he wanted to be master, to speak with that authority which could only come from God.” As a father, husband, and brother, Gabriel’s legacy is one of fear and hatred rather than love.
But there is a bit of hope for the redemptive powers of Love in Go Tell It. I believe that there was real love between Richard and Elizabeth. The cruelty, however, lies in the outside world (the white world), unable to hold love for black people, taking away Richard from Elizabeth. Elizabeth’s relationship with Richard shows that there is a possibility of love but that it lies outside the “normal” and expected avenues. I see this through Elizabeth and Richard because despite the fact that Richard wasn’t “saved,” he and Elizabeth thrived and were happy in the world they created. Whereas, when Elizabeth interacted with those within the church (speaking of men), she got nothing but heartache.
The strongest possibility of love lies in the relationship between John and Elisha. However, that relationship is tense and deals with a kind of sexualized spirituality. This is not yet a fully formed thought and I’m still formulating it — I will continue expanding upon this during our presentation this week.