Power and Execution

In Giovanni’s Room and “Going to Meet the Man,” Baldwin makes an argument for love and against hatred. Giovanni and David’s relationship fails because David is unwilling to admit his love, rather hoping that he will be able to live a straight American lifestyle after he leaves Paris. Similarly, Jesse is unable to love his wife Grace because he sees sex as a form of domination rather than love. But even though these two men are the causes of their failed relationships, they do not face the greatest consequences in each of these stories that involve execution. Rather, Giovanni and the man at the lynching are killed as a result of the main characters’ inability to love. David and Jesse both associate sex with power rather than love, which results in their worlds being worse off for themselves, but more so for the people they infatuate over.

We have talked heavily about who had the power in David and Giovanni’s relationship. and I believe it is David, for he associates his sex life with his ability to enter a straight space. He does not enjoy having sex with Hella, but does so anyway because he wants to be a “natural” American man; he wants a family, a house, and steady income. And he holds this idea of a “natural” life over Giovanni throughout their entire relationship, reminding him of the looming threat of Hella returning to Paris, which will cause David to return to his “natural” self. Giovanni does not understand why David cannot love him, and it is because David believes Giovanni will not give him any power, both economic and social, if he has a full time relationship with him. Hella on the other hand will give David that power because she gives him access to the straight married world that David’s father wishes him to enter before he gives his son any more access to money. David flees his relationship with Giovanni because it does not give him any social or economic power, and because of this Giovanni sets his own path towards execution; David’s infatuation with power, then, serves as one of the blows in Giovanni’s long path towards execution, with the final blow being the guillotine. Had David practiced a life of love rather than power, Giovanni would probably not be facing death. Similarly, Jesse also experiences an execution in his story, but rather than being the cause of it, he is the result of it: a man who has been taught hate and power is the way of the world.

Jesse, in a sense, is a more extreme version of David; he is incapable of love, but does not even consider that love is a possibility in his life. Instead, he arouses himself with images of hate and power, specifically the castration of the man at his first “picnic.” His sense of power is not an economic or social one like David’s, but a purely physical one where domination over the body is equivalent to happiness in sex. He sees the castration as something pleasurable because it is the ultimate form of domination over the body, in that it is both a murder and a sexual destruction. Baldwin shows us how harmful a life of hatred can be, with people infatuated with destruction and domination rather than love. Jesse is an extreme example, but he is the logical conclusion to a child being taught a doctrine of hatred; it follows that he equates execution with sexual fulfillment because his father taught him that execution is where people come together.

Through Giovanni’s Room and “Going to Meet the Man,” Baldwin shows us how the dogma of power corrupts the purity of love. In both stories a father figure teaches their son “natural” ideas of the family and its power in society. David learns that the straight American family is a path toward happiness because it gives him access to wealth. Jesse is taught that physical domination brings happiness because it brings power to those who dominate. While the ends of Giovanni and the castrated man is far worse than the ends of David and Jesse, Baldwin still shows us that obsession with power has ruined both of the main characters of these stories. David is left sickened and disturbed by the image of himself in the mirror and Jesse is left impotent unless he thinks of violence. While Giovanni and the man are physically executed, David and Jesse are spiritually executed, left with empty and unfulfilling lives because they were taught to practice accessing power over trying to love.