Term Paper: Character in Giovanni's Room

Pages: 9 (3032 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Women's Issues - Sexuality  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] These are also the experiences of some gay men in heterosexual society, and it was Baldwin's gift to express both at the same time" (Capozzola. 12). This myth of the coherent self based in consciousness allows the individual to see her/him self as the author of his/her actions. With this view of the will as self-generating, it is possible to see the self as generated out of the concrete individual's situated practices. The fluidity of the self that follows from this could, in theory, is lived unproblematically.

Giovanni's room has been completely closed off from the world. The windows are painted over and the natural world of the courtyard is but a dim shadow. The journey into the world of the known and the unknown that David is on is juxtaposed with the confinement that he experiences in his day-to-day life. However, it is not until the two men share space and spatial reality that he is able to 'see' this. David's experience with Giovanni stirs the memory of his first homosexual experience, which seems to be frightening as he describes the body of lover as "brown... The black opening of a cavern in which I would be tortured till madness came, in which I would lose my manhood" (14-15).

David's fear of alienation is seen as emasculation in this instance. The homosexual man is rejected by society, rejected by himself and rejected by women as a result of his cultural alienation. In order to become 'us' as opposed to 'them', the gay man must give up his own identity and try to conform to the dominant society. The initial and compelling rejection of the person through the distinction of his sexual preference and, or, experience results in an early and traumatic alienation.

Giovanni's Room brought Baldwin into the limelight and, also, out of the closet (Ehrenstein 61). It is natural to compare the experiences of the author with the character that shares a similar trait. Baldwin expressed the belief that being a black man, a gay man, and an artist was, sometimes, too much of a struggle to overcome (Capozzola 10). In the book, David is encased within the struggle of his sexual identity, seen in the confinement of his experiences within the closeted world of Giovanni's room. Baldwin presents this struggle in comparison to Giovanni's freedom from guilt and delight in his sensuality. Giovanni tells David, "You want to despise Giovanni because he is not afraid of the stink of love. You want to kill him in the name of all your lying little moralities" (187).

David's obvious ambiguity concerning his sexual identity is the central conflict in the book. His desire to conform is in direct opposition to his sexual need to explore. He's uncertain as to which direction he will take (heterosexual, bisexual or homosexual). "While certain identifiable trends, fashions, styles and modes of expression exist in every culture, there's no valid set of criteria by which one can be certain that a person is straight, gay, lesbian or bisexual. What people say they are is what we should always take as the most important indicator of their sexual orientation" (Zuckermuan and Simons; cited in Caudron 51)

Each sexual distinction implies a different role and identity, different rights and duties, different norms and sanctions. Such categories and their use as labels are meant to describe a prevailing reality. However, they do not always reflect the social reality. To determine membership within any given category the experience and actions of the individual must be considered (Brown 658). Robert Guthrie explains the consequences of David's inability to define his place in the world: "David, the character who could not accept his sexuality, let his soul wither in the closet that killed his spirit. The closet killed his abandoned lover, Giovanni. It would have been so simple for the two of them to leave Giovanni's room. Opening a window, then a door, they could have gazed at Paris and walked in the sunlight" (60).

Despite the closeted nature of their relationship, there were others aware of the pairing between David and Giovanni. In some ways, they were able to be more open because of David's status as expatriate. One of the French characters of Giovanni's Room remarks that David was doing things in France that he would not dare to do at home (142). David sees the stigma of homosexuality as being less in Europe than in the United States. Stigma is the social sanctioning that occurs when an individual and, or, group has been labeled as deviant from the norm. First, there is a question as to whether a distinct 'norm' exists; however, there are certain behaviors and characteristics that carry a stigmatized label - such as mentally ill, criminal and sexually aberrant.

David's need to find a place where he felt he belonged is indicated by his comments about Eden. "Perhaps everybody has a Garden of Eden" he says, "I don't know; but they have scarcely seen their garden before they see the flaming sword. Then perhaps life offers only 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" (36). David does not see himself as a hero. In fact, he believes "Heroes are rare" (36). To be brave is to court madness," the madness of the denial of pain and the hatred of innocence" (36).

For David, the guidelines of morality had failed; in fact, they had deteriorated into the abyss of cultural concepts, which then came to symbolize freedom and conformity.

A small but significant portion of the population has always consisted of people who are "different," who are outside the mainstream for one reason or another: the mentally ill, criminals, people with various physical disabilities and conditions, homosexuals, persons of indeterminate gender, and so on" (Hanson, 2000, p. 29). The stigma of homosexuality is inflated in light of accepted stereotypes and misconceptions. The fear that results from established norms being challenged finds an outlet in discriminatory practices, many of which make it difficult for the homosexual.

The key to understanding the development of deviant behavior is to examine the associations and environment of which the individual has been a member. Deviancy not only develops from recognition of the action, but also from learning motives and attitudes. David's description of his first homosexual experience indicates both his sensitivity to the sexual urge and the negative socialization associated with the act. Touching the other young boy aroused feelings that are obviously pleasurable but are described in words generally associated with unpleasant experiences. His heart began to beat in an 'awful' way, the light was 'bright and hot'. Their first kiss happens as if 'by accident' and the experience was frightening, the object being held was like a 'nearly doomed bird'. The boys shut their eyes in order to not 'see' where their bodies and urges were taking them. David explains, "Later, the idea that such a person could have been my best friend was proof of some horrifying taint in me. So I forgot him" (PG).

By the end of the novel the reader begins to think that David will also 'forget' Giovanni because of the conflict that continues to rage inside himself. The ambiguity remains but the association between the deviancy of his homosexuality and the social construct of his American past continues. Hella, once his fiance and companion, leaves to return to America. "For David, the bisexual protagonist, this is not possible. For what the world chooses to see as corruption, as a disturbing deviance from the norm, is the essence of his life. He has to live with ambiguity, as Hella does not" (124, quoted in Tomlinson 142). David may be ambiguous but he is no longer innocent. He has chosen freedom and that means he must remain in France.

Works Cited

Baldwin, James. Giovanni's Room. 1956. New York: Laurel Books, 1988.

Bigsby, C.W.E. "The Divided Mind of James Baldwin." The Second Black Renaissance: Essays in Black Literature. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1980.

Brown, Richard Harvey. "Cultural representation and ideological domination." Social Forces, (1993): March, 657-677.

Capozzola, Christopher. "Beauford Delaney and the art of exile." The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide, (2003): Sept-Oct, 10-13.

Caudron, Shari. "Open the corporate closet to sexual orientation issues." Personnel Journal, (1995): August, 42-49.

Chaitin, Gilbert D. "The birth of the subject in Camus' 'L'Etranger.'" The Romanic Review, (1993): March, 163-181.

Ehrenstein, David. "The fire still burns: a new one-man show and television documentary remind us that the life and work of James Baldwin continue to resonate." The Advocate, (2003): March, 61.

Evans, Nicholas M. "Langston Hughes: Critical Perspectives Past and Present." MELUS, (1997): March, 147-150.

Guthrie, Robert. "A letter to James Baldwin." Chicago Review, (1996): Dec, 59-63.

Hanson, F. Allan. "Where Have All the Abnormal People Gone?" The Humanist, (2000): March, 29-36.

McKenna, John J. And Raabe, David M. "Using Temperament Theory to Understand Conflict… [END OF PREVIEW]

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