Elizabeth & John

I found the Go Tell it on the Mountain connections to the Bible to be interesting. The connection to John and Elizabeth from the Bible proves a similar relationship in that the mother and son share in the Bible is an interesting comparison as well. John was a gift from the angel Gabriel, to Elizabeth who is an older woman and should not be able to have any more children. Yet, in the book, the story is slightly different.

John was born of shame. John, a child who did not ask to be born, was born out of wedlock to a mother who tried her best to raise him. I believe that the decision to marry Gabriel is the last chance she has to live a life of hope. Yet, I also find this interesting because in the Bible, Gabriel is meant to be giving Elizabeth a gift and yet in Go Tell It…, Gabriel is the one who hates John the most. John, who could resemble John the Baptist is seen as the Devil incarnate through Gabriel’s eyes. Yet, John is meant to be this bright star who tells the word of God throughout the Bible, he preaches about Jesus and spreads the Good Word throughout the nation.

I think that the reason Elizabeth and John were named this was because of the stories in the Bible. It is a beautiful story about a gift from God, which is how Elizabeth viewed John at least in the end. Yet, he was not viewed as that by everyone. As well, as the fact that John was reborn at the end of the book. This to me, solidified him with the identity of John the Baptist. He was finally able to be viewed by others as he felt to his core. AS though he was one with God and that is what mattered the most to him.


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.

The Ultimate Panopticon

I recently read an excerpt from Michel Foucault’s “Panopticism” in the class “Perspectives on Gender” with Professor Marcus, and upon finishing Part 2 of Go Tell It on the Mountain, I could not help but be reminded of Foucault’s work, specifically the parallels between what he names as “The Panopticon” and the role of religion in the lives of John and his family members. Foucault defines The Panopticon in the context of the carceral system, inspired Jeremy Bentham’s idea for prison reform where the cells circle around a central guard tower, The Panopticon (like the image above). Because they each face inward towards the tower, The Panopticon represents the constant possibility of surveillance, so much so that there not even need be a person inside as long as the people in the prison have internalized this belief (fear) that they are constantly being watched. There is no escape from this incessant monitoring, real or imagined, and risk of punishment that follows should they be caught doing the “wrong” thing. Given the seemingly narrow scope of The Panopticon in Foucault’s writing, I asked: what might The Panopticon look like in other settings? 

I think Go Tell It on the Mountain offers one possible answer to this question. I would argue that religion functions as some sort of Panopticon-like force in John’s life. One moment where this idea is especially evident is when John visits the movie theater when “having once decided to enter, he did not look back at the street again for fear that one of the saints might be passing and, seeing him, might cry out his name and lay hand son him to drag him back” (Baldwin 37). John very clearly worries that a member of his church will see him committing this sin and become someone who can testify against him before the Lord come judgment time. In other words, John feels that there is no reprieve from God’s watchful eyes. Another similar example of this idea is when the mass attendees recite “My soul is a witness for my Lord,” and in this instance, John experiences “an awful silence… a dreadful weight, a dreadful speculation… and this weight began to move at the bottom of John’s mind, in a silence like the silence of the void before creation, and he began to feel a terror he had never felt before” (Baldwin 76). I understand John’s visceral reaction to this religious expression to speak to the fear that arises from the exact internalized perception of constant surveillance that is the basis for The Panopticon. For John, by way of others or himself, there is no escaping God’s sight nor this world of binaries– good and evil, white and black– he sees as intrinsically connected to and enforced by his religion.

Lil Nas X and the Church

We have recently discussed Lil Nas X’s new music video and recent events in class as they correlate closely with Baldwins experiences. Baldwin and Lil Nas X are both gay men who end up leaving the church. Both also question their sexuality and how that fits in with what the Christian church teaches. Lil Nas X posted a tweet towards the Christian church basically saying that he was taught to hate himself in a community that was supposed to stand on love (variety.com/2021/music/news/lil-nas-x-montero-video-twitter-1234939496/). As a Christian who has grown up in the church, I have been asking what can be done better to help everyone know they’re loved.

In “Down at the Cross”, Baldwin writes “When we were told to love everybody, I thought that meant everybody” (pg. 310). That hits hard because it’s true. Jesus certainly teaches us to love everybody, yet we consistently see division in the church. There are so many divisions that it can be hard to keep count. What I believe is important to remember is that the church is not perfect. Yes, people should be able to look at Christians and see the character of God, however there are people who do not represent the love of Christ correctly. 

While there are many scriptures in the bible that address homosexuality (Rom. 1:27, 1 Tim. 1:10, etc), I believe that the church often seems to use these scriptures to judge rather than uplift and remind people of grace. However, there is a difference between disagreement and judgment. Often, when Christians disagree with something it is seen as judging rather than providing opinion and biblical evidence. God is the ultimate judge. I find that disagreement and judgment are often considered the same, leaving many, such as John in “Go Tell it on the Mountain”, hating themselves. Referring to John’s naked baby picture, Baldwin writes, “But John could never look at it without feeling shame and anger that his nakedness should be here so unkindly revealed (26)”. Similar to Adam and Eve when they hide their naked bodies from God, John hates when people are able to see him without coverings to hide his secrets. This passage is pertaining to the physical body, however I believe it correlates with the internal body as well. John feels ashamed of himself externally and internally. However, God came searching for Adam and Eve even when Adam and Eve were ashamed of what was exposed in their vulnerability. And God is still the same, searching for us all. The angry God theology needs to be put to rest. The love and desire God has for his children regardless of what is revealed in their nakedness has to be made known.

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. 


As mentioned in class, Go Tell It on the Mountain seems to be all about love but also about loneliness. Some characters are looking for love, some wanted love, others have an absence of love which is what leaves the room for loneliness. When Roy and Elizabeth are talking about Gabriel beating him, Roy responds to Elizabeth’s assertion that Gabriel beats Roy because he loves Roy (P. 21) with “That ain’t the kind of love I understand, old lady. What you reckon he’d do if he didn’t love me.” (P. 21). In a way, Roy is sensing an absence of love from Gabriel.

Elizabeth never loved her mother as her mother seemed to not love her (p. 147-148). She was separated from her father, whom she loved by her aunt who deemed him unfit to care for Elizabeth as he was “the first cousin of the devil (P. 149-150). In not loving Elizabeth’s father, Elizabeth comes to the conclusion that her aunt could not love her (P. 150) and the lack of love was reciprocated by Elizabeth.

Then God ripped Richard, a man she loved, away from her as retribution (P. 152). In a way, Elizabeth is aware that Gabriel does not love John or herself (P. 169-170), that his spirit is not right despite his promise to love her and John until he died (P. 182). It is this idea that all throughout her life, Elizabeth’s love has been taken away from her and that she has and will always lack love.

Most importantly, John is looking for love from everyone. He feels utterly alone for most of the book, searching for reasons why Gabriel doesn’t love, and searching for a way to know what others think of him. So many characters in the book have this feeling of loneliness and solitude. I think James Baldwin in a way is commenting on the ways in which people are constantly looking for love and a place to call their own. That the world is full of people who live without love and cannot see themselves actually being loved despite their great need for it.

Essau and Jacob

Gabriel does not like John. He does not like that John is smart. He does not like that John is anointed. He does not like that John was born out of wedlock. We could even go further to say that Gabriel hates John. Now, many people could argue that it does not make sense that Gabriel would hate John. Gabriel beats the other children. Gabriel is mean to other people inside and outside of the house. It could be argued that Gabriel’s dislike towards John is just a part of his natural dislike towards everyone in Gabriel’s family.

However, the text shows that Gabriel is capable of showing love. When Roy is stabbed, it is said “His father muttered sweet, delirious things to Roy, and his hands, when he dipped them again in the basin and wrung the cloth out, were trembling.” (P. 40). Gabriel is capable of loving others, it is just that that love does not reach John. While it could be argued that Gabriel shows his love by clothing and feeding John, it seems more that Gabriel does these things for John because he promised Elizabeth that he would take care of John.

This makes me think about the story of Jacob and Essau. Isaac preferred Essau. Isaac would have given everything to Essau if he could have but God intervened. Essau did not follow the tenets of God. Essau did not act as a first born son should. So despite Isaac’s intentions, Jacob stole Essau’s blessings. The important word here is stole. Because it was not that Isaac changed his mind because of Essau’s faults and decided to give Jacob Essau’s blessings. Jacob pretended to be Essau to fool an old man. While Isaac did not hate Jacob, he did not want Jacob to have the birthright. 

Gabriel is the same as Isaac, except with more malice towards John. While the difference in these two stories is that both Essau and Jacob were legitimate sons and John is an illegitimate son, the tale still stands. Gabriel prefers Roy to John. Yet, Roy is the son that does not follow the tenets of God. Roy is the son who does not seek to be loved by Gabriel. Roy is the son who does not act as a first born son should. While John does not seek to steal Roy’s “birthright”, his simple actions of being anointed and acting within the church makes him a better candidate. Gabriel hates that. Gabriel would rather see John lying on the couch stabbed and bleeding.