In Part Two of Go Tell It on the Mountain, Gabriel’s point-of-view narrative irrefutably demonstrates just how misogynistic he is by making clear the double standards he has regarding how he views himself and how he views women. When he finds out that Esther is pregnant with his child, he is shocked and appalled that she should be the one worthy enough to carry his heir. Baldwin writes from Gabriel’s perspective, “She was going to have his baby – his baby? While Deborah, despite their groaning, despite the humility with which she endured his body, yet failed to be quickened by any coming life. It was in the womb of Esther, who was no better than a harlot, that the seed of the prophet would be nourished” (124). At this point, the reader has already seen how Gabriel thinks very highly of himself while continually judging and denigrating everyone else. However, the harsh language he uses to describe Esther in referring to her as “no better than a harlot” is especially hypocritical. She is not the only one who has acted in order to create this child, and she is not the one in this relationship who is cheating on a spouse by pursuing it. We see Gabriel’s misogyny and hypocrisy a little further on in this section when he comments on “how far his people had wandered from God;” he reflects, “Women, some of whom should have been at home, teaching their grandchildren how to pray, stood, night after night, twisting their bodies into lewd hallelujahs in smoke-filled, gin-heavy dance halls, singing for their ‘loving man.’ And their loving man was any man, any morning, noon, or night – when one left town they got another…” (131). It is not his place to condemn these women and tell them what they should and should not be doing when he, as a preacher, definitely should not be engaging in many of his similarly sinful behaviors. He is no better than them, and his willingness to believe that he will be forgiven for all of his transgressions but that they are irredeemable is extremely hypocritical. This double standard solidifies in my mind how utterly reprehensible and undeserving of grace Gabriel is.
The Absence of Love
During one of our classes, Professor Mouton-Kinyon had brought up the theme of love, or the absence of it, in John’s relationship with his Mother and Father. The absence of love for the child is shown in John’s family, but also in the history recounted by Florence’s mother who had her children taken away from her during slavery. In the Bible, it is written that God is Love, and so for the people in this story, bringing their children to God is, one can argue, loving them or giving them all the love they need. But, before a child can be brought into this world, there are parental relationships that occur first. I am interested in the absence of love in the romantic relationships in the novel, and how these relationships never were allowed to blossom into love because, 1. they occurred outside of the “rules” of their religion or 2. they were using religion as a safety net.
For example, Elizabeth was never able to love Richard because of his death, but he also was a man who cursed the Lord and religion. Florence, who never connected to religion or the Lord, never understood her husband or really loved herself until she felt that it was almost her time to die. But still she could not find love for her own brother, because in the end she still wanted to show him his hypocritical ways and she seems to say I have come to terms with my faults and lack of love for the Lord, but you have not and it continues to spew hatred not love on those around you. And Gabriel displays this absence of love the most. Gabriel talks about how he hated Deborah after he began to have an affair with Esther, but he has never loved a woman in his life really and I would argue is incapable of love because he has hatred in his heart and the shame he feels that seems to overpower all of his other emotions. He also uses his marriage to Elizabeth as a safety net because he believes she repented to the Lord and is a Godly woman. Using scripture, 1 John 2: 7-11 states: “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” I think this describes Gabriel directly because he and Elizabeth cannot provide the love their children need, when they have never experienced it themselves, and refuse to acknowledge that.
Gabriel, David Baldwin, and Saul
In Gabriel’s first meeting with baby John, the child is enthralled by the music he hears and Gabriel says, “Got a man in the Bible, son, who liked music, too. He used to play on his harp before the king, and he got to dancing one day before the Lord. You reckon you going to dance for the Lord one of these days?” (Baldwin 177). In these phrases, Gabriel refers to David who played his harp for King Saul (1 Sam 16:19-23) and later danced before God (2 Sam 6:14-16). The introduction of David and Saul into Go Tell It on the Mountain is exceptionally fruitful as it connects both to the text and Baldwin’s life. Though the connections between the biblical David, John, and Baldwin are equally rich, I want to focus here on the link between Saul, Gabriel, and David Baldwin and the way Saul adds to our reading of the text. In the Bible, David plays his harp for Saul because the king is “troubled by an evil spirit from God” (1 Sam 16:15). This description implies some mental trouble for Saul, presumably a mental illness. Undoubtedly, Baldwin recognized parallels between Saul’s evil spirit and his father’s mental illness. The shift from serving as God’s messenger to having a mental illness that impairs thought is startling but, as Saul’s example shows, it is not unprecedented nor is it disconnected from God’s larger plan. In the Bible, the evil spirit troubles Saul once the spirit of God leaves him and fills David instead. The spirit of God leaves Saul because he disobeys the Lord in battle. God commanded Saul to “go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass” (1 Sam 15:3). Though Saul follows through on killing women and children and fails by not killing the leader of Amalek, God’s command here is worth pondering. God’s instructions illustrate the difference between the Old Testament God and the New Testament Christ; the lack of mercy on anything and anyone seems antithetical to Christ’s message. For Christians, these instructions represent a rift in the faith: is Christianity about love (as Baldwin would assert) or about follow God’s commands on the path to heaven? Ideally, these options are the same but Saul’s case shows that is not always the case. Baldwin favors the Christianity of love and forgiveness, but Gabriel, and presumably David Baldwin, seem to follow a Christianity that features an angry God and a constant serpent in the grass, looking to provoke his ire. In Go Tell It on the Mountain,Baldwin repeats Saul’s internal battle between following God, doing the right thing, and keeping up appearances in the story of Gabriel’s life. In trying to balance these impulses, Gabriel fails; the Bible shows that Saul also falls short. Strikingly, the punishment for that failure is also the same. Saul not only receives an evil spirit from the Lord but also loses the right to keep the kingship and spirit of Lord within his lineage; he cannot choose his heir. Gabriel experiences the same reality. By naming their son “Royal,” Esther forces her imperfect child to serve as Gabriel’s heir. Furthermore, Gabriel hopes that he can pass on the spirit of the Lord to Roy, but he seems to have only passed on the “evil spirit from God.” Rather, God chooses Baldwin, the unlikeliest of heirs like David, to continue his work on Earth, spurning Gabriel’s desires. By looking at Saul in comparison to Gabriel and David Baldwin, Baldwin illustrates how God’s control over the world, both real and perceived, affects the characters in the text.