Adam's Reviews > Go Tell It on the Mountain

Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
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Feb 11, 12

bookshelves: fiction
Read in January, 2012

This is a single day in the life of a boy in a black Harlem evangelical church. Throughout, Baldwin relentlessly describes religious experience in brutally physical terms:

“This power had struck John, in the head or in the heart; and, in a moment, wholly, filling him with an anguish that he could never in his life have imagined, that he surely could not endure, that even now he could not believe, had opened him up had cracked him open, as wood beneath the axe cracks down the middle, as rocks break up; had ripped him and felled him in a moment, so that John had not felt the wound, but only the agony, had not felt the fall, but only the fear; and lay here, now, helpless, screaming , at the very bottom of darkness” (193).

Though set in a single day, there are frequent flashbacks to characters’ lives in the South before the Great Migration. Baldwin powerfully places individuals’ searches for salvation through the church alongside black people’s collective struggle for freedom:

“Behind them was the darkness, nothing but the darkness, and all around them destruction, and before them nothing but the fire—a bastard people, far from God, singing and crying in the wilderness!” (137).

“Go Tell it on the Mountain” shows the terrifying and beautiful uncertainty of faith, and the paradoxically liberating and suffocating power of the church.
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