Term Paper: Homosexuality: An Analysis of James

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The metaphorical "room" in Giovanni's Room

It can be argued that David, a white bi-sexual in search of his true sexual identity, torn between a gay love for Giovanni and a heterosexual love for Hella his lady friend, is himself a symbol - through the novel - of the alienation black homosexuals felt in the American culture. As an expatriate, David is by definition a man without a country, an outcast (which, as explained above, a gay black man like James was in the black U.S. community); and here in Paris, at the beginning of the novel, he can deceive himself into thinking he is a man with some substance. He isn't a man of substance, because he is still in search of his own sexual identity, and he can't rid himself of a homoerotic, friendship with "Joey" from his childhood. And James uses the metaphor "cavern" to good effect, to condense the pictures of his past as David re-traces his childhood brush with homosexuality: "That body [of the younger boy, Joey, whom he had relations with] suddenly seemed the black opening of a cavern in which I would be tortured till madness came, in which I would lose my manhood" (12). Also on the cavern theme, David thinks about his father, and says, "A cavern opened in my mind, black, full of rumor, suggestion, of half-heard, half-forgotten, half-understood stories, full of dirty words." thought I saw my future in that cavern," David continues. And then on page 109, David is describing Giovanni's room thusly: "...life in that room seemed to be occurring beneath the sea, time flowed past indifferently above us, hours and days had no meaning." Again the image of a place apart, under, within some secret place that never is defined in David's mind. We know David is only playing a game he can't win, and he is brutally honest when on page 121 he mentions that when he was alone, he wrote to Hella, or to his dad for money, "And no matter what I was doing, another me sat in my belly, absolutely cold with terror over the question of my life."

And then he (page 123) discusses going through a "sea change" as life appeared to be occurring "underwater." Now David is really apart from all the cares of the real world, and living in a kind of "garden of Eden" and yet, he is imprisoned by this room, which is part of his life because he can't break away from his sexual pleasure with another male. The two men had freedom there, to engage in their earthy activities, but it was also a kind of prison, it was like a closet (too symbolic not to be considered a planned irony by James), and indeed a never-land where time meant nothing and nobody knew they were in there ("No one ever came to see us, except Jacques, and he did not come often. We were far from the center of the city and we had no phone").

For a place that offered such apparent wild raging sexual passion, it certainly had a forbidding and even frightening description on page 127. And remember, there is no view; the windows are painted over. And occasionally, human shapes appear through the translucency of the window, causing Giovanni to freeze up like a dog.

David offers this: "...I stared at the room with the same, nervous, calculating extension of the intelligence and of all one's forces which occurs when gauging a mortal and unavoidable danger: at the silent walls of the room with its distant, archaic lovers trapped in an interminable rose garden, at the staring windows, staring like two great eyes of ice and fire, and the ceiling which lowered like those clouds out of which fiends have sometimes spoken [and the yellow light hung] like a diseased and undefinable sex in its center." Does that sound like a sexy little nest for two male lovers to share their bodies and spirits? Hardly. It sounds more like a prison, a cavern, a kind of purgatory for David, while he waits to see if there is really a heaven or will he be condemned to hell - and perhaps, is this room hell? "I invented in myself a kind of pleasure in playing the housewife after Giovanni had gone to work," David explains (p. 127-128). He speaks of dumping the trash and examining the boxes lying around. "But I am not a housewife - men never can be housewives," he explains. "And the pleasure was never real or deep..." And therein may lay the truth of David's whole existence.

What does it say about James Baldwin's homosexuality?

Certainly James left America and went to Paris because it offered a better environment for his writing, for his homosexuality and indeed the more tolerant and progressive international citizenry in Paris did not view the apparent paradox of a black man who is gay with any degree of alarm or concern. So, Baldwin writes a book about a "unable to construct a gay identity for himself because this Paris is too aesthetic and its mandarin pleasures eventually degenerate into the grotesque lust of old fairies like Guillaume" (Shin). And, as stated earlier, Giovanni's room is both an escape from and an example of society's "oppressive strictures," to quote Shin, and in the process James "comes to sum up the impotence of the aesthetic ideal. In Giovanni's Room, homosexual relations cannot epitomize the new society because Baldwin cannot realize this vision apart from political commitment."

On page 208, the rage is loud and shrill, as Giovanni and David duke it out emotionally about the end of their relationship. The greatness of James' work comes shining through in this rather dark, dreary exchange. "What kind of life can we have in this room? -- this filthy little room. What kind of life can two men have together, anyway?" (this again questions David's own existence as a man who has gay desires and confusion about those drives). Some observers have speculated that this scene (beginning on page 199) is the crowning achievement in this book for the ultimate confusion that David feels towards his identity, and towards homosexuals. "I just can stand it anymore. I have to get out of there," he tells Hella. Then as he's entering Giovanni's room "...the light crashed on" as Giovanni cried out in a "voice of terror." All the images are there of the confusion over sexual roles and distaste for the lifestyle - juxtaposed with the love David and Giovanni feel for each other in a twisted, scattered sense.

Giovanni's "strange smile" was composed of "cruelty and shame and delight," which sounds about like David's own emotions at his relationship with Giovanni. Images swirl around this scene like moths circling a bare light bulb in the middle of summer. In this room scene, each has cast off all illusions of sweetness, niceness and future-thinking. "I said nothing," David tells us. "I looked beyond Giovanni's head at the square windows which held back the feeble moonlight." Of course the artificial light "crashed on" but the natural light can't get in this room. It's blocked out, just like the natural world outside is blocked out. The images of "dirty" as to their sexuality and the room are plentiful throughout the book, and in this scene, again, David "watched the hot tears roll from the corners of his eyes onto the dirty pillow."

And on page 208 again, David is accusatory in his rage but this line is the blurred role, the sidebar story with a story, and clearly David does not appreciate being the "girl" in his homosexual relationship: "You want to go out and be the big laborer and bring home the money and you want me to stay here and wash the dishes and cook the food and clean this miserable closet of a room and kiss you when you come in through that door and lie with you at night and be your little girl." And there's that word "closet" again - intimating possibly a closet homosexual, through the image of a veritable prison-like room no bigger than a closet; a closet, where things are stored away until the next time they're needed.

Conclusion

In James Baldwin's last published article - "Here Be Dragons" in 1985 (he died in 1987) - he talks philosophically about dealing with the confusion and chaos of his life style. "All of the American categories of male and female, straight or not, black or white, were shattered, thank heaven, very early in my life," he stated. And "the physically androgynous state must create an all-but-intolerable loneliness, since we all exist, after all, and crucially, in the eye of the beholder. We all react to and, to whatever extend, become what that eye sees." And surely… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Homosexuality: An Analysis of James.  (2003, August 29).  Retrieved April 25, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/homosexuality-analysis-james/6768905

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"Homosexuality: An Analysis of James."  Essaytown.com.  August 29, 2003.  Accessed April 25, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/homosexuality-analysis-james/6768905.