Shopping Cart


 

APS TOGETHER

Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin Day 11

September 27, 2020 | Part 2, Ch. 5, p. 149-157 (up to “and the shadow of death.”)

Astonishing how automatically citizens will cling to xenophobia – and in this case, homophobia –when something goes wrong, nationally. It’s always not only easier to attack difference, but to be relieved by confirmation that one’s own people would never succumb to things like murder and sexual ‘waywardness.’ “It was fortunate, therefore, that Giovanni was a foreigner,” says David – the fact reinforces national pride, i.e., national prejudice. Look at the relief people still seem to have in this country when the latest act of terrorism turns out to have been done by a foreigner – and how quickly, when that’s not the case, the public assumes mental illness (another prejudice) or they struggle to explain how the perpetrator somehow had a troubled childhood…



“But isn’t there some point in telling the truth?” At this point, a question like this from David isn’t surprising, but still sad, a little poignant. Obviously David isn’t telling the truth to Hella, but he also isn’t able to tell the truth about himself to himself. One truth is that he is genuinely emotionally overcome by Giovanni’s predicament and his own possible role in it. It’s what makes him get so upset with Hella, until “I felt, with terror, that I was about to cry.” And he stops speaking. Crying would be an honest reaction, a truth. That’s the one room David can’t step inside of.



Interesting parallel between Giovanni and Hella, when it comes to being single. All the patrons of Guillaume’s circle recognize that “Giovanni’s new freedom, his loverless state, would turn into license, into riot…” Hella had been afraid that, without a man, she wouldn’t know if she even was a woman. As if, whether queer or straight, to be unanchored by another human being was to risk being doomed to being lost forever – also dangerous to others, because not easily compartmentalized.



Elliott Holt pointed out how the tense shifts to the present in chapter 3 of part one. The same thing happens here, when David imagines the details of the murder scene between Giovanni and Guillaume. And it may be the closest he gets to Giovanni, first making the scene more vivid by casting it in present tense, but also imagining how Giovanni must have felt, after Guillaume has his will with him. David can imagine this because he knows how he himself would feel. Both he and Giovanni have grown up believing that to be violated is literally to be unmanned. It’s another, strange form of intimacy between them, in this scene where David in essence enters Giovanni’s mind – and in so doing, possesses him for a moment, and is himself possessed as his own mind gets subsumed by Giovanni’s (as David imagines it). Sexual entry can be sexual violation. Is it a form of violation, to enter someone’s mind?


Sign up for A Public Space's Newsletter