While reading Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin, I knew that there would be some connection and relationship between the story, its characters, and religion. I noticed references here and there, for example, the numerous mentions of being the “apple of one’s eye” which I believed to be a reference to the apple/fruit in the biblical story about Adam and Eve, and I highlighted these different references while reading (Baldwin p. 68, 133). However, it was not until our exercise in class where we actually referred to biblical texts that I realized there were a lot more connections. As Professor Kinyon said, almost every line has a reference to biblical text and religion in some way or another. From the title to some of the characters’ names, there were many biblical parallels.

One of the main biblical parallels that I had confirmed after our exercise in class was the parallel between John the character and a figure in the Bible. I recognized and understood the parallel between John’s father Gabriel and the Biblical figure Garbiel, his younger sister Sarah, the prophet Elisha or Elijah, and more but I was not able to make the connection with John so easily. I questioned if he was a reference to John, one of Jesus’ apostles, or John the Baptist. I think that finishing the novel really unified this concept for me when John in the novel becomes saved. In the Bible, John the Baptist, the son of Elizabeth, (the same as John Grimes in the novel) is set by God to preach repentance and baptize people in the Jordan River. He serves as an example of the importance of repentance of sin. John the Baptist’s story through life and his unfortunate death also serves as a reminder that God has a plan for all and saves us all. This is similar to John Grimes because John’s life is “plagued by sin” and in the end when he has his hallucinations in which he is saved he repents and becomes a changed person. As we have already often discussed, John sins through masturbation and his thinking about his sexuality and afterward, believes that his sin is visible to everyone. However in the Part Three of the novel “The Threshing Floor,” John is religiously converted in a similar way that John the Baptist converts others. When John visions the communion service with Elisha in which he breaks bread and drinks wine (the holy communion), he realizes he has blood on his feet that won’t wash off (Baldwin p. 197). Someone cries “Have you been to the river?” (Baldwin 197). John then goes to the river and is questioned about his belief in the Lord as a sinner and once he sees the Lord, he is set free. Perhaps this allusion to the river in this instance is meant to be a connection the Jordan River in which John the Baptist baptized others.

Also similar to John the Baptist, whose transition to being a prophet came with an acknowledgment of a time when he lived in the desert in obscurity, I saw a similar theme with the character John Grimes. Throughout the course of John’s life, he feels as though he is not understood, especially by his father, or to be more specific step-father. The feelings and emotions that emerge as a result of this, which may just be speculation, are what push John Grimes into this religious conversion and awakening. In the same way that John the Baptist’s obscurity pushed him to a life of ministry.

One last connection that I will make between John Grimes and John the Baptist is through a specific place in scripture. In Luke 3 John the Baptist paves the way for those awaiting judgment day. The people were waiting, wondering if John was the Messiah, the prophet that was promised to them by God. But in Luke, John answered them all, saying that he would baptize them with water but that he was not the most powerful, the one that would baptize them with the Holy Spirit and fire was the Messiah and the most powerful. The scripture follows by stating, “his winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn…” (Luke 3:17). The threshing floor is an exact reference to the chapter title in which John is saved.

There are probably many more connections that I can make between John Grimes and John the Baptist. It is very intriguing to see that when you actually analyze the text, the abilities to make Biblical parallels are numerous.

2 thoughts on “John”

  1. I really appreciated the depth of the references you looked at and I agree that there is a very strong connection between John Grimes and John the Baptist. I am more curious as to why you think that connection is there. John Grimes might think he is plagued by sin, but as we discussed and as his aunt points out, he hasn’t done anything sinful in his life. His “sins” in his mind (homosexuality/masturbation) seem to be more autobiographical given Baldwin’s own struggles in the church. I think the argument could be made that John is indicative of John the Apostle because John the Apostle is often known as the Apostle of love, which would fit with how Baldwin seems himself and his gospel of love. John the Apostle also leaves his father’s household to follow Jesus, a connection Baldwin might be making to John Grimes leaving his father’s ways of self-hatred and guilt for the church, or once again the gospel of love.

  2. Prior to reading, I similarly assumed that this story would have some sort of religious subtext based on the title. Thus, I found the parallels between Go Tell It on the Mountain and the Bible to be even more profound having explored some of them in depth in class this week With that being said, I really liked the similarity you highlighted between John Grimes and John the Baptist thought the reference to the river and cleansing of sins. Additionally, I think the direct quote mentioning “the threshing floor” makes this comparison between these two individuals even stronger. Because I have not attended a religious school before and thus lacked a lot of the context to make these connections on my own, I found your specific examples and interpretations to be really helpful and thought-provoking in considering the religious theme of this novel.

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