Posted in Fiction

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

At the end of James Baldwin’s novel Giovanni’s Room, David, the white American protagonist/narrator comes to a spiritual conclusion of sorts:

I must believe, I must believe, that the heavy grace of God, which has brought me to this place, is all that can carry me out of it.

From what exactly is David trying to find redemption?

While he lives in Paris, he develops a relationship and moves in with Giovanni, an Italian bartender, while his fiance is away in Spain. He lies to both of them, and perhaps to himself, setting in motion a tragedy that ends with the execution of Giovanni.

One can look at the story line and determine that David wasn’t at fault in the legal sense but the spiritual guilt gnaws at him right up to the novel’s end. There is a part of Giovanni’s death that doesn’t get carried away from David by the wind – neither the winds of change nor the winds of time.

The guilt of a white American plays center stage in this novel pushed to full literary force by Baldwin’s incredible writing:

Perhaps everybody has a garden of Eden, I don’t know; but they have scarcely seen their garden before they see the flaming sword. Then, perhaps, life only offers the choice of remembering the garden or forgetting it. Either,or: it takes strength to remember, it takes another kind of strength to forget, it takes a hero to do both. People who remember court madness through pain, the pain of the perpetually recurring death of their innocence; people who forget court another kind of madness, the madness of the denial of pain and hatred of innocence; and the world is mostly divided between madmen who remember and madmen who forget. Heroes are rare.

Maybe Baldwin, himself, is one of these heroes.

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