Dirty vs. Clean

As Theresa brought up in her blog post from last week, Baldwin talks about Giovanni and David’s relationship being “dirty” vs. “clean” when Jacques initially encourages David to love Giovanni authentically. In reading Part 2 of this novel, I found that the words dirty and clean are used with regard to David, Giovanni, and their relationships fairly frequently. After Giovanni is fired, he tells David that “They are just dirty, all of them, low and cheap and dirty… All except you” (305). In this same scene, he says that he did not want to be Guillaume’s lover because he “really did not want to be dirty with him” (307). Here, it seems as though he shares Jacques’s opinion in that he associates being dirty as being untrue to oneself. Giovanni knows that he does not want to sleep with Guillaume because he does not want to sell himself out like that, and he believes that what he has with David is sacred and should be protected. At this point in time, I think he is still under the impression that David and he could love each other and be happy together for the rest of their lives, which explains why he does not see David as one of the “low and cheap and dirty” people he despises. Once he realizes that David is going to leave him, however, Giovanni criticizes him by saying, “You want to be clean. You think you came here covered with soap and you think you will go out covered with soap – and you do not want to stink, not even for five minutes, in the meantime… You want to leave Giovanni because he makes you stink. You want to despise Giovanni because he is not afraid of the stink of love” (336). This flips the dichotomy that had been established between clean and dirty earlier in this story. Previously, if David had wanted to be clean, all he would have had to do was love Giovanni genuinely; now, Giovanni seems to be saying that David cannot be clean unless he denies their relationship because their love “stinks.” I don’t know if this is just him projecting what he thinks David believes about their love or if he has become cynical about love altogether, but either way, seeing how erratic, desperate, and anguished Giovanni has become is absolutely heartbreaking. Lastly, when David is imagining Giovanni’s execution, he narrates, “That door is the gateway he has sought so long out of this dirty world, this dirty body” (359). Again, David seems to associate their love with being “dirty” and as having been the cause of Giovanni’s downfall. However, it could also be read as David recognizing that the “dirty world” has made it so that they could never love each other genuinely, and this is the true reason for their despair: the dirty world that they live in cannot let them be authentic to themselves or to each other, regardless of the love they share.