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    Lit:Go Tell It In The Mountain, James Baldwin

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    Rahma Sboui Gueddah

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    Registration date : 2006-12-09

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    Lit:Go Tell It In The Mountain, James Baldwin

    Post by Rahma Sboui Gueddah on Sat Mar 10, 2007 2:55 pm




    Go Tell It on the Mountain is a 1953 autobiographical novel by James Baldwin. The novel examines the role of the Christian Church in the lives of African-Americans, both as a source of repression and moral hypocrisy and as a source of inspiration and community. It also, more subtly, examines racism in the United States. The novel is likely Baldwin's most famous.
    Plot summary:
    Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.
    The novel includes five parts: a chapter told largely from John's perspective; then three chapters called "The Prayers of the Saints," told from the perspectives of John's aunt Florence, his father, and his mother; and a concluding chapter. The three prayers correspond to the thoughts and recollections of the three "saints" as they pray in a revival-style service.

    The opening chapter tells the story of John, a young African-American boy in Harlem in the early part of the 20th century. John is the son of Elizabeth and her preacher husband Gabriel, the latter of whom is a strict disciplinarian. Gabriel's religious philosophy is strict and is one of salvation through faith in Jesus, without which one is damned to hell. John hates his father and dreams of wounding or killing him and running away.

    Florence's prayer tells her life story. She was born to a freed slave who chose to continue to work in the South for a white family. Her mother always favored Florence's younger brother Gabriel, causing Florence to feel a yearning need to escape from her life. Florence buys a one-way train ticket to New York and leaves her mother on her deathbed. In New York, Florence marries a dissolute man named Frank, resulting in a power struggle within their marriage, which ends after ten years when Frank leaves one night and never returns. He later dies in France in World War I, but Florence only finds out from Frank's girlfriend.

    Gabriel's prayer starts with a description of his ways as a teenager, before his rebirth in Christ and the start of his career as a preacher. His conversion comes as he forms a relationship with a slightly older woman from his town named Deborah, who was gang-raped as a teenager by a band of white men. Deborah is devout in her faith, and Gabriel uses her strength to become a successful Reverend himself. However, despite his religious convictions, Gabriel is unable to resist his physical attraction for a woman named Esther. He has a brief affair with her but then ends it out of guilt. When Esther finds herself pregnant, Gabriel gives Esther the money that Deborah has been saving so that Esther can go away to have her baby; she goes to Chicago but dies giving birth to their son, Royal. Royal knows his father but doesn't know of their relationship, and is eventually killed in a barroom fight in Chicago. Gabriel is powerless and unable to stop his son's murder.

    Elizabeth's prayer, the shortest of the three, tells her story. As a young girl, Elizabeth was very close to her father, but when her mother dies, she is shipped off to live with an imperious and cold aunt, and then goes to live in New York with a friend of the aunt's who works as a medium. It turns out that Gabriel is not John's biological father. Elizabeth left home with her boyfriend, Richard, a "sinner" who had no time for God and who promised to marry Elizabeth but never did. Richard is arrested for a robbery he didn't commit, and while he is acquitted at trial, the experience - including the abuse he takes at the hands of white police officers - leads him to commit suicide on his first night home. Elizabeth, then just a few months pregnant with John, takes a job, where she meets Florence. Florence introduces her to Gabriel, whom she marries.

    The final chapter returns to the church, where John falls to the floor in a spiritual fit (unaffected). Curiously, he is overtaken by the spirit right after his friend Elisha is. He has a series of dreamlike visions, seeing visions of hell and heaven, life and death, and seeing Gabriel standing over him. When he awakes, he says that he is saved and that he has accepted Jesus. Yet even as the group leaves the church, old sins are revisited as Florence threatens to tell Elizabeth of Gabriel's sordid past.


    Major themes:

    Biblical allusions:
    Baldwin makes several references to the Holy Bible in Go Tell it on the Mountain, most importantly to the story of Ham, Noah’s son who saw his father naked one day. Noah consequently cursed Ham’s son Caanan to become the servant of Noah’s other sons.

    This story is important for two reasons. Firstly, it was used as a Biblical justification of slavery and the inferiority of the Negroid race because Ham’s sons migrated to Africa. John wonders about this interpretation briefly in the novel. Secondly, this story established the taboo of the nakedness of the patriarchy. John apparently one day also saw Gabriel naked in the bath. But he also sees Gabriel naked metaphorically. John sees him as a hypocrite. Because of this, the story of Ham is referenced often when Baldwin describes John’s crisis of faith.

    Baldwin refers to several other people and stories from the Bible, at one point alluding to the story of Moses leading the Jews out of Egypt, and drawing a parallel to that exodus and the need for a similar exodus for African-Americans out of their subservient role in which whites have kept them.

    Autobiographical Nature:
    Like John Grimes, James Baldwin grew up in Harlem and never knew his biological father. His stepfather was a Christian minister and Baldwin said he was abusive and strict. Also like John, Baldwin underwent a religious awakening at the age of 14 and became a preacher himself. He later became disillusioned with church life and expressed this in his later novels.
    Search for Identity:
    The major Themes of the novel are ‘Search for Identity’ and ‘Quest for Love.’ On his fourteenth birthday John experiences a crisis in his identity. All along he had been expected to become a preacher when he grew up. His father had imposed religion on him and conditioned him to believe that everything else was sinful. John feels resentful towards his father’s attitude and desires to establish his identity on his own free will. John is also in quest for love. Denied of his father’s love, he craves for affection from others. Thus, on his fourteenth birthday, he expects his family members to wish him. When his mother wishes him and gives him a present, he is overjoyed. Later, he is delighted to gain the love of god and the approval of Elisha. Other characters in the novel are also in the constant quest for love and when they are denied human affection, they turn to god.
    Minor Themes:
    The minor Themes of the novel are ‘Wages of sin’ and ‘Power of religion.’ All the characters commit blunders and are paid for it. Florence deserts her sick mother and suffers a bad marriage and a painful existence. Elizabeth runs away from her aunt to elope with her lover, only to be left with an illegitimate child and uncertain future. Gabriel betrays his mother and Deborah and cheats Royal and John of a father’s love. In turn, his children turn against him and his sister threatens to expose his colourful past. Gabriel is torn with guilt and fears persecution. All these characters as also John turn to god, when they feel helpless. Unable to resolve their problems, they seek the mercy of god to improve their life. Surrendering themselves to god, they feel relieved and enlightened.
    Mood:
    The mood of the novel is sober as it traces the evolution of John from childhood to adolescence and exposes the spiritual dilemma faced by all the characters that influence John. The novel begins on a note of doubt as John seeks worldly pleasures but feels guilty for his actions. However, by the end of the novel, John resolves his dilemma. He surrenders himself to god to guide him in life. His prayers are heard and he feels enlightened, after a short period of struggle. The novel ends on a note of hope, as John feels confident about tackling his life in the future.

    lol! HaVe A nIcE dAy afro


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