David’s Fear

David’s guilt is killing him. That guilt bubbles up and out from his “cavern”. David recedes into this “cavern” whenever he thinks about people finding out that he has slept with Joey or that he can possibly sleep with men. It is inside the cavern where everything will be ripped from David, as a means to escape losing everything and disappointing his father, David leaves for Paris. Unfortunately, David is unable to leave the cavern behind. While he no longer fears what would happen if his father found out about his attraction to men (not to say that he is not still afraid but that that fear is no longer the biggest threat in his mind), he has to dance around those that he comes into contact with in Paris as to avoid being found out.

This becomes clear when we see David interacting with Giovanni for the first time. On page 251 it states “And then I was afraid. I knew that they were watching, had been watching both of us. They knew that they had witnessed a beginning and now they would not cease to watch until they saw the end. It had taken some time but the tables had been turned, now I was in the zoo, and they were watching.”. Here, we see that David has attempted to distance himself from the gay men in the bar by watching and categorizing them. By creating that distance, David was allowed to enter into and maneuver through the space as though he was a visitor, in other words, a straight man. The problem this quote outlines is that David is no longer the watcher. He has become a part of the exhibit he created and is now at the mercy of every man he has put into it.

Later on page 254, it states “I could not look at Jacques; which he knew. He stood beside me, smiling at nothing, humming a tune…But I was glad. I was only sorry that Jacques had been a witness. He made me ashamed. I hated him because he had now seen all that he had waited, only scarcely hoping, so many months to see. We had, in effect, been playing a deadly game and he was the winner. He was the winner in spite of the fact that I had cheated to win.”. In this quote we are seeing how David attempted to hide his attraction to men in a singular, close relationship. It is also shown how David thinks about his sexuality. It is something to run from. It is something to be ashamed of.

But, at the same time, David’s sexuality being something to run from and to be ashamed of comes from the way he thinks about others seeing him. When he is enraptured by Giovanni, David finds joy in their conversation and interactions. Yet, it is when he thinks about what other people are thinking of him, he becomes afraid. We see that in both of these quotes. David is afraid of being found out. He is afraid of being seen. He is afraid of being known. Yet, he still follows Jacques to the bar, knowing the risk that one day he might find someone who could put him into motion. While David is afraid, it almost seems like he wants to be known and seen, if only by one person (being Giovanni).

A Churchgoer Walks Into a Bar…

In our last in-person discussion, I was very flummoxed about not being able to empathize with the religious perspectives and themes in Go Tell It On The Mountain. I think that I got too wrapped up in the community aspect of John’s life being a purely religious one rather than some other form of community. But I think I am starting to understand Baldwin’s beliefs in a joint communal-individual salvation. In Giovanni’s Room, the first bar scene illuminates both the goals and desires of an individual (David) and the greater community around him. This bar certainly does not present salvation in the traditional sense, but it presents Giovanni, who gives David an opportunity to love and be loved, and it gives the rest of its patrons a similar opportunity.

I did not comprehend John’s salvation because I don’t think John really comprehended it either; him being saved goes completely against his beliefs throughout the book that he cannot be saved because he is attracted to men. The religious dogma being taught to John (and at the same time Baldwin) made me upset, and my feelings of anger toward the institution of the church blinded me to the opportunity for growth that religion presents to individuals. While the institution of the church itself is flawed, its tenets of love are actually beneficial for those who cannot learn to love on their own. There are those in the church who choose a path of living in and teaching fear rather than love, but if love is taught effectively, people can live happier through learning about it. But again, the church itself is flawed and sometimes love is not presented as the end goal of its teachings. But the bar in Giovanni’s Room, while traditional viewed as an institution of sin and lust, actually brings the David towards a true love with Giovanni.

While I have not finished Giovanni’s Room, and thus do not know the result of David and Giovanni’s love or how Giovanni ends up arrested, the love is currently presented as pure and true. At first, it seemed Jacques was roping David into going to a bar purely out of lust; his goal seems to be simply sex. But David ends up having a rather meaningful and lovely conversation with Giovanni. Nothing overtly sexual occurs, yet they find themselves infatuated with each other throughout their entire evening together. The bar gives them this opportunity to do so. Like the church, it brings people together and places them in an environment where they can begin to express love. Obviously, this is not always the rule in a bar, and in fact many people at bars simply end up lusting after others like Jacques. But the bar does not instill the same dogmatic fear of not being saved in David that the church does to John. It is a place that is explicitly secular, yet gives David the ability to find love with Giovanni. Again, I do not know how the novel proceeds after Part I, but as of right now I see both David and Giovanni living through love rather than through fear.