Parallels between “The Male Prison” and Giovanni’s Room

When reading “The Male Prison” I began to better understand the theme of masculinity in Giovanni’s Room. While most of Baldwin’s works explore the relationships of men to other people, Giovanni’s Room is the first text where there is an emphasis on the main character’s relationship predominantly with other men. Furthermore, in both texts, there is a clear relationship between masculinity and sexuality and after our discussions in class comparing David, to Jacques, to Giovanni, and more, I began to see this relationship much better. However, it was when reading “The Male Prison” that the characters’ roles of Jacques, David, and Giovanni became even more transparent.

 In “The Male Prison” when Baldwin wrote, “the arguments…as to whether or not homosexuality is natural seems to me completely pointless…it seems clear that no matter what…the answer can never be yes. And one of the reasons for this is that it would rob the normal…of their very sense of security and order,” I immediately thought of David (Baldwin, 232). Throughout Giovanni’s Room, David maintains a heterosexual relationship with Hella, despite his relationships and feelings for Giovanni. Having Hella around brings “security and order” to David’s life since having a woman, rather than a man, represents the socially acceptable and “American” heterosexual relationship that David seems to keep running to. Additionally in “The Male Prison,” Baldwin writes that Madeleine is “the ideal” for Gide (Baldwin, 233). He states that Gide “would have been compelled to love her as a woman, which he could not have done except physically…He loved her as a woman, only in the sense that no man could have held the place in Gide’s dark sky which was held by Madeleine” (Baldwin 233-234). To translate this into the world of David, Hella, and Giovanni, David really loves Hella on a physical level, or at least that is how I see it as. When Hella returns from Spain and the two progress in their relationship, David continuously thinks about Giovanni, because that is who his love is for. Like I mentioned earlier, Hella simply serves as the ideal woman for the ideal relationship for David. He knew that “no man could hold the place in his sky” that Hella could hold because David is uncomfortable with the idea of loving a man and having a homosexual relationship with Giovanni. 

Later on on page 234 of “The Male Prison,” Baldwin continues reiterating this point when he writes, “the horrible thing about the phenomenon of present-day homosexuality, the horrible thing which lies curled at …the heart of Gide’s [David’s] trouble and…the reason that he [is] so clung to Madeleine, is that today’s unlucky deviate can only save himself by the most tremendous exertion of all his forces from falling into an underworld in which he never meets either men or women, where it is impossible to have either a lover or a friend…” (Baldwin 234). Throughout Giovanni’s Room, we read through the mind of David and particularly see how he views characters like Jacques. As the novel progresses, David becomes ambivalent about Jacques because of Jacques’s openness about his homosexuality and acceptance of his lifestyle. Thus, when reading this line by Baldwin, I also made the connection between David and Jacques. David remains clung to Madeleine and clung to the idea of heterosexuality because he does not want to be like Jacques. David is repelled by Jacques’s openness about his sexuality while he is struggling to come to terms with his. In addition to this, Jacques, as someone who has fully accepted his homosexuality, struggles to meet both men and women and struggles to find a lover or a friend, a topic we discussed in class. In seeing this, David cannot accept a similar life for himself so he deviates even more from accepting his homosexuality. He does not want to fall into “the underworld” that Baldwin writes about in “The Male Prison.”

I could go on and on about the connection between “The Male Prison” and Giovanni’s Room but I am afraid this blog post would become too long. However, I am happy that I read “The Male Prison” because if reaffirmed a lot for me and provided me with great insights which are certianly useful as we continue to explore Baldwin’s work that deals with sexuality.