If Go Tell It on the Mountain was somewhat about James Baldwin and his faith, Giovanni’s Room is about his sexuality and all the complications included when one starts the journey of embracing their sexuality. Having left America, like so many other writers, Baldwin settled in Paris to escape American Society. Even though he didn’t set the novel in America, the American view of homosexuality and the guilt and shame that others attribute to it comes vividly throughout the first couple of chapters.
From the onset, the readers can see David struggling with his masculinity, self-acceptance, guilt, and everything in between with a lot of self-loathing. What was at the forefront was the focus on gendered expectations that David hinted at. After having his first sexual encounter with Joey, David describes being overcome by fear and realizing that Joey was a boy. He then states: “that body suddenly seemed the black opening of a cavern in which I would be tortured till madness came, in which I would lose my manhood” (226). David is internalizing the conventional notions of what it means to be a man (here, one can’t fault him, he was only a child, and this is what he learned), making it difficult for him to come to terms with what occurred, himself and his masculinity. Because he associates manhood with heterosexuality, he feels that his attraction to Joey is wrong and indicates some failure: “how could this have happened in me” (226). From then on, it seems like David was running away from his sexuality — from being mean and cruel to Joey to proposing to Hella and even to him lying to himself when he hangs out with Jacques. Through these relationships, Baldwin is attempting to show how difficult it can be to deviate from stereotypical norms of manhood and womanhood.
I find it interesting that some of the themes that we saw in Go Tell It on the Mountain still continue throughout Giovanni’s Room. The same loneliness that we see in John is apparent in David — though for different reasons. I have a feeling that it also exists in Giovanni but I haven’t read that far along just yet to make that claim.