Outside the Garden

This week, I’m struck by imagery of the Garden of Eden in our class texts. In Part I of Giovanni’s Room, as David is worrying about Giovanni’s sentence, Jacques comments to David, “Nobody can stay in the garden of Eden.” David reflects that people “have scarcely seen their garden before they see the flaming sword,” a reference to Adam and Eve being banished from the garden (239). I’m trying to think through a couple different ways of interpreting this motif, so I’d love to hear any of your insights if you’ve noticed this theme as well. 

On one level, it’s easy to connect this Bible story of being banished from the garden simply to Baldwin’s religious upbringing and/or David’s internalized homophobia, in which homosexuality is a sin. In particular, the Fall is associated with shame about the naked body, and especially queer shame in this context, so it would make sense that references to Eden in Giovanni’s Room are meant to evoke a backdrop of religious homophobia.

I also wonder if this idea of leaving the garden could connect to the literal geography of David’s and Baldwin’s lives. Both Baldwin and his character are in exile in France. For Baldwin, a Black, queer man, America has never been an Eden; and David is running from his identity. Leaving America for France is a sort of journey out of the garden. David reflects that “life only offers the choice of remembering the garden or forgetting it” (239). He connects leaving the garden to losing innocence—a pain he must either remember or deny. Both he and Baldwin are faced with living “outside the garden,” working out how to move through a world that does not protect those with non-normative identities. In this light, Paris seems to be a neutral space outside the garden for both Baldwin and David to negotiate their identities.

Of course, I’d be remiss not to mention Lil Nas X’s reclamation of Garden of Eden imagery in “Call Me By Your Name.” Lil Nas X gives us an unapologetically queer reread of the Eden myth in the imagery and lyrics. I’m curious if the rest of Giovanni’s Room will offer any hints of David and/or Baldwin similarly reclaiming the Garden of Eden in some way. 

2 thoughts on “Outside the Garden”

  1. I really like the analysis that the expulsion from the garden could relate to an experience of internalized homophobia. I wonder, in this reading, would sex with men, then, be the garden? As I wrote in my post last week, it seems like in certain moments of romantic or sexual communion with men, almost stop time for David. It is like the whole world shifts and a world where time is a choice opens up to David. This does seem to evidence a reading of queerness as Eden. What does this then do to the repurposed image? In my mind, it shows how Baldwin, like Lil Nas X with Renaissance Art, is reimagining and enlivening something that would be traditionally exclusive.

  2. I think you’re right that the departure from the garden is a loss of innocence and I definitely believe there could be geographical implications to this metaphor. But I wonder if Paris, or the idea of Paris at least, could function as the garden. Baldwin initially sees Paris as an escape; he idealizes it as a place where he can write and contemplate freely, and innocently to a certain extent. But after being in Paris for a while he realizes he is a stranger there, and thus no longer belongs in the garden. His knowledge of his own otherness casts himself out of Parisian culture. So I believe that the garden to Baldwin could be the idealized Paris as a form of escapism, and the fall from that garden is the realization of the true Paris, which is a place just as bleak as America to a certain extent.

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