Art Imitating Life

Upon reflection, I realized I am not entirely sure that Baldwin’s message of love and self-acceptance is the answer to all the problems the novel presents. After reading Go Tell It On The Mountain, I concluded that Baldwin’s message was that the perseverance of one’s own faith, despite external judgment, is the path to salvation. At his funeral, Baldwin played Amazing Grace, declaring his own faith and salvation. Giovanni’s Room however, ends tragically, in a way that almost makes it hard to see how love and acceptance could solve the character’s issues in such a heteronormative society. It leaves me wondering if Baldwin’s inability to find love and acceptance in his own life is the reason these issues are not solved by them in the novel.

Baldwin related to his characters in Giovanni’s Room; like David he had difficulty accepting his sexual identity, like Giovanni he felt like an outsider, and a foreigner, and it can be assumed that he interacted with men like Jacques and Guillaume. In the Male Prison, and a variety of other texts Baldwin argues that to be truly happy people must reject the call to conform to heteronormativity, and live their truth. In Giovanni’s Room, David and Giovanni were both doomed due to their inability to leave the room, or “the closet,” symbolizing that self acceptance and the perseverance of love may have saved them. That being said, it is extremely probable that David and Giovanni would have struggled even if they “came out”  because of how heavily sexuality is/was regulated. Though they may have been free from internal dismay, the external difficulties of coming out are not something that love and self acceptance necessarily resolve. The tragic fate of the main characters leaves me questioning whether Baldwin wanted readers to conclude that love and acceptance would solve these issues, or if he was suggesting that there was not a solution because he himself could not find one. 

With Baldwin’s lived experiences heavily influencing the novel, I think he should have personalized the story more. It would have illuminated whether he thought there was a real solution. I think that Baldwin’s inability to find comfort in his own identity due to external factors, led to this fate for his characters. Though he declares that love and acceptance are to be the ultimate answers, I think Baldwin struggled to find these answers himself. I think the tragic fate in the novel and Baldwin’s own struggles speaks to the fact that societal norms must shift for love and self-acceptance to persevere.  My presentation touched on the effect gender norms had on Baldwin’s conception of sexuality and understanding of his own identity.  Ultimately my analysis will explain how Baldwin’s interpretation of the effects of these norms  and the effect they had on him were instrumental in his writing of the novel. I’ll find that the only real solution is a shift in societal perspective and that broader society has to want to promote love and acceptance for it really to prevail and save people like David, Giovanni, and Baldwin, himself.