The Quest For Love

In Go Tell It on the Mountain, Baldwin sees the possibility of love both within the theological as well as a physical aspect. Love is something that John Grimes struggles to find throughout the novel and I’ve been wrestling with this question — besides his mother, where does he get that love?

Love should have come from Gabriel, John’s step-father and God’s messenger (going off his namesake), but it didn’t. Rather, John receives the minimum and only that — he is fed. clothed, sent to school but he doesn’t receive the love and emotional care that is necessary for one’s growth. What Gabriel presents is a message of sinfulness and eternal punishment in the burning fires of hell. To be saved from the wrath of this fearful God that Gabriel preaches about, one needs to be humble and leave behind all earthly things. Gabriel’s God is not one of love and compassion — may be because Gabriel is projecting himself into the theology. Gabriel projects a lot of hate, fear, and guilt into his theology and it’s impossible to have a loving relationship to arise from such a cancerous atmosphere and heart posture. God, after all, is about love, acceptance, and compassion. One notable point as well is that loving God and one’s neighbor in a Christian point of view requires the relinquishment of the self and power — Gabriel (and John) refuses to give up that power — rather, he is attracted to the pulpit partly because of the power and importance that it would bring him — “he wanted to be master, to speak with that authority which could only come from God.” As a father, husband, and brother, Gabriel’s legacy is one of fear and hatred rather than love.

But there is a bit of hope for the redemptive powers of Love in Go Tell It. I believe that there was real love between Richard and Elizabeth. The cruelty, however, lies in the outside world (the white world), unable to hold love for black people, taking away Richard from Elizabeth. Elizabeth’s relationship with Richard shows that there is a possibility of love but that it lies outside the “normal” and expected avenues. I see this through Elizabeth and Richard because despite the fact that Richard wasn’t “saved,” he and Elizabeth thrived and were happy in the world they created. Whereas, when Elizabeth interacted with those within the church (speaking of men), she got nothing but heartache.

The strongest possibility of love lies in the relationship between John and Elisha. However, that relationship is tense and deals with a kind of sexualized spirituality. This is not yet a fully formed thought and I’m still formulating it — I will continue expanding upon this during our presentation this week.


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.