The imagery of blindness and sight was striking in Native Son by Richard Wright. In Giovanni’s Room, the same image is there, but subtler and more natural. Instead of literal blindness, the darkness emerges in the night–time. In the mornings, then, for David, reality is searing and often painful. First, it is important to establish that David, like many other characters we have seen so far in the semester, is weighed down by a deep sense of shame. For him, the shame resides in his homosexuality. This shame leads him to shut others out. When speaking about his father he says, “I did not want him to know me. I did not want anyone to know me” (232). This desire to not be known ebbs and flows from morning to night.
In the very first lines, this dichotomy of morning and night emerges: “I stand at the window…as night falls, the night which is leading me to the most terrible morning of my life” (221). This foreshadowing, of the terrible morning to come, reflects his attitude towards the harsh realities of life. He then imagines the train ride the next day, thinking about how he will have to mask himself once again, confuse the girl across from him by refusing to flirt. In the night–time, though, he does not have to hide as much. There is solace in not having to be seen, exposed, and forced to hide.
In a later scene, when David overhears Ellen and his father arguing about him, the same imagery occurs. He listens in on a late night discussion about his father’s parenting, which makes him think to himself, “I wondered what I would see when I saw them in the morning” (231). In this instance, David almost has more access to reality in the night–time, because he hears an unfiltered conversation between adults. Perhaps the morning is scary because the social realities take hold. His father and Ellen will act as if nothing has happened, they will wear a mask and deceive David into thinking that everything is fine.
This theory, that the morning is a time when one must face the social reality of the world, holds when David recalls his first sexual encounter. He spends the night with Joey, performing the “act of love” (225). In the night he is free and joyful. The morning after, though, he sees Joey’s naked body and feels a deep sense of shame at what he has done. His thoughts immediately focus on the perception of this act from others: “I wondered what Joey’s mother would say when she saw the sheets” (226). David does not want anyone to see or know what he has done in the night. The morning acts as a rude awakening to the external pressures which cultivate the shame he feels about his sexuality and self–worth.
2 thoughts on “Night v. Morning”
I really love your connection between the morning, or light, and a shameful sociality. I didn’t notice before how beginning with the description of dusk and the hope of night positions the narrator in a liminal space. We are given access to the narrator in what seems like the last, or somehow most important (or brightest), night of freedom. Though this morning looms overhead, there is a sort of slow resistance in beginning the book at dusk. I am wondering though how to reconcile one thing. If the oppression of a heterosexual sociality is signified by light/morning, what do we make of the description of David as tall, “like an arrow,” and with gleaming blond hair (221). To me, this sounds like Apollo, the greek god who is often associated with the sun. Does this have to do perhaps with how David cannot escape this heteronormative world, in the same way he can’t escape his equally burning queerness?
There is a lot of great symbolism you’re pulling from the light and dark imagery. I am particularly thinking of spaces of darkness that characters seek refuge in like the nighttime bars and the dim movie theatres. The men feel freer to express their sexuality in these spaces like how Bigger engaged in homosocial erotic acts in the theatre with his friend. We usually associate churches with bright candle imagery which would make them “light” spaces where sexuality would need to be concealed. I am fascinated with how this conflicts with the typical negative and positive associations between darkness and light.
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