On Fools

Giovanni’s Room broke my heart. Like, seriously, I did not expect it to be quite so distressing a read, and part of me isn’t even sure what’s sadder: David’s doomed relationships or the fact that he’s the one that dooms them. David himself says it best during his discussion of his father: “I did not want him to know me. I did not want anyone to know me” (232). And indeed, this much is evident in almost all of David’s relationships: from his father, whose attempts at bonding David constantly rejects; to Hella, the fiancee to whom David is unfaithful and dishonest; to even Joey, the first love to whom David is terrified of “[losing his] manhood” (226) and who David then bullies until he moves away, David seems hellbent on alienating himself from any person that might care for him.

Giovanni, of course, is only the latest victim of this cycle of self-destructive isolation. David’s fondness for the Italian bartender is so overshadowed by his own internalized homophobia that, despite the all happiness that he experiences while with Giovanni, David helplessly “[resists] him with all [his] strength” (287). David is unable to accept the greater implications a relationship with Giovanni has on his own sexuality and perceptions of masculinity and is therefore equally unable to accept Giovanni himself: David chooses a loveless marriage to a woman over a heartfelt affair with a man, toppling the first in a string of dominoes which ultimately results in Giovanni’s execution. I guess it all goes to show that whether we examine his familial, platonic, or romantic relationships, David’s self-hatred burns so intensely that it immolates his ability to connect to the people around him; he so despises himself that he loses the ability to love at all.

It’s funny, because at one point David eavesdrops on a woman’s conversation about her lover and rather snidely remarks that “One had the impression that, though she certainly did not wish to be a fool, she had lost one definition of the word and might never be able to find another” (293). I recently watched Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom on Netflix and they just happened to suggest such an alternate definition, though one which I believe David would benefit to learn more than the woman: A fool is responsible for what happened to him. A fool cause it to happen. David causes his own pain, his own suffering, and his own loneliness; he chooses (and keeps choosing) to be alone.

One thought on “On Fools”

  1. I’m happy you brought this up; I almost wrote my blog post on that line because the “fool” seems to be an idea that Baldwin continuously uses in his fiction. As I wrote in “Everybody Plays the Fool” a few weeks ago, Baldwin uses the word to mean multiple things. In “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” characters describe both religiosity and atheism as fool or at least describes those who participate in either as fools. I think the idea that a person chooses to be a fool, as stated in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, fits how Baldwin uses the word. Religious people are sometimes fools when they choose to hide from the real world in the church. Yet the non-believers are also fools when they deny what seems to be true: that a God exists. Similarly, it seems that this American girl in Giovanni’s Room is choosing to be a fool. Yet Baldwin provides an important extension of this argument: at some point, a fool cannot see that they are acting foolishly. A fool justifies their actions as not foolish but reasonable. It’s an interesting distinction that I believe plays into our reading of Native Son and Bigger’s arguably-“foolish” actions. I haven’t arrived at a conclusion for that comparison but you have presented some excellent food for thought.

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