Sin and Shame

When reading the first part of Go Tell It on the Mountain and Field’s piece “Pentecostalism and All that Jazz: Tracing James Baldwin’s Religion” I noticed many connections between religion and the Bible and Baldwin’s literary work. One that particularly caught my attention was the prevalent state of nakedness that dominated John’s feelings. On page 38, John stresses about what he would have to do if his mom was not feeling well. “He would have to prepare supper, …take care of the children…and be naked under his father’s eyes” (Baldwin, p. 38). When he looks at his baby picture in his house, he feels the shame of his nakedness in comparison to his siblings’ nakedness, even though he is a baby. Baldwin writes, “But John could never look at it without feeling shame and anger that his nakedness should be here so unkindly revealed” (Baldwin, p. 26). A lot of John’s feeling of nakedness reminded me of the origin and creation story with Adam and Eve. In the same way that Adam and Eve, once they committed original sin, became aware of themselves, their bodies, and their shame; they hid their naked bodies from each other and were overcome with vulnerability and guilt. The portrayal of John’s character is done similarly. In every example in which John acknowledges his nakedness, he feels shame and this nakedness and shame is tied to John’s sin. Like Adam and Eve, John submits to the temptations of his sexuality, has sinned, and now feels shame and guilt. John’s sin, not only his masturbation but his true sexuality, that being homosexuality, makes him feel shame in the world and this shame appears to him to be very visible to everyone. John is always under the assumption that others know of his sin, especially his stepfather. Now not only must he stand before God the Father on judgment day but must also stand before his step-father, naked and exposed. This also connects to a larger theme in which religion and the institution of the Church often view and depict sexuality outside of the tradition of the man and woman and outside of marriage to be shameful. These boundaries and standards of religion and the Church prevent people like John from having good relationships with the Church, religion, and even himself. I am curious to see how much this theme of nakedness and shame similar to the shame of Adam and Even when they committed their sin of temptation expands for John when he continues to explore his sexuality throughout the novel.

2 thoughts on “Sin and Shame”

  1. I liked the connection that was made to Adam and Eve. I feel as though it truly ties in the shame that John feels to a biblical context, that I had not thought about before. I find it interesting how the shame, though internalized can be compared to such a public figure in the Bible. John feels a lot of shame and believes that it almost rolls off of him like a smell. It is so interesting to compare it to Adam and Eve. I also find it interesting because Ebve seemed as though she gave into temptation, meanwhile, John was simply born this way, not by choice.

  2. I really enjoyed the connection you made between John’s feeling of nakedness and the story of Adam and Eve. I had not thought about this before, but I believe you are right on the mark with this comparison. I think there is something especially profound about this externalization of shame that occurs for John through this sense of nakedness that is inherently tied to sex and his sexuality in particular. Like you point out, to be naked is not only to be visible but also to be vulnerable. In this permanent state of visibility, John feels/is under constant scrutiny, bracing for attack from his father Gabriel and ultimately the Holy Father for any misstep. It is really interesting to consider how this has then shaped his relationship with his religion and more broadly how he understands his place in the world as a Black, queer individual.

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