Colin Hogan's Reviews > Go Tell it on the Mountain

Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin
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Nov 06, 09

Read in November, 2009

I was disappointed with this book. When I first started reading it, there was something queer about the main character John. That got me interested. He didn't fit in with his family or his community, and in his wandering around the city, I thought he was going to cast out on his own, building some kind of new existence.

That didn't happen, and maybe I was a bit naive in wanting it. After finishing, I thought about the open environments for a black man in this time period, and obviously, there weren't many. It wasn't so easy to just start out and see what happened. That sucks, but after I thought about that, why Baldwin chose to make his protagonist of Giovanni's Room white made a lot more sense. I read that Baldwin left the United States to move to France in order to escape racism, but even in France, it was easier for a white man to navigate the world and create his own space in it.

The writing was beautiful, and his weaving of the different plots together was really great. I was not so interested in religion, and that was a difficulty in this book.

I was interested in Baldwin's depictions of men as just pathetic. They come off as violent, unpredictable, and untrustworthy. Florence said at one point that there was no woman that could escape the burden of the man, and the father was a perfect example of that. That kind of onerous, antagonistic relationship really troubled me, and the fact that no man really gets along in the book was troubling too. The feeling of tension with violence and hate under the surface between the father and John was intense. I wonder why these masculine relationships were so terrible and lacking in communication or trust.

I only gave the book three stars, but after writing this review, I feel that it deserves more. This is definitely not my favorite Baldwin book. I enjoyed Giovanni's Room much more, but that might be because I am gay and I like when men get together in good ways (Maybe that is Baldwin's way around these terrible relationships between heterosexual men...). I also enjoyed many of Baldwin's essays on race and America, but from what I could discern from my reading, this is the novel that most represents Baldwin's oeuvre.
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Hazel Nice review Colin. I read this and Giovanni's Room when I was far too young to appreciate them. I'm rereading this one now for a group and finding lots to think about. I think you're right about Baldwin's picture of straight men here. John's stepfather in particular, is a horrible character who is damaging to women, children and to himself. I wonder if he (like other the main characters)is so handicapped by his environment that he can neither know nor love himself, and is therefore incapable of knowing or loving his mother, sister, lovers, wives and children.

I also think that religion can be a very good outlet for that violence and hatred, and Baldwin's descriptions of the different expressions of spirituality (eg in one character's pride, or another's abasement) seem authentic.

Fabulous book.


Tamanna I also think it is important to notice the destructive relationship between men here, because it was such an important part of Baldwin's own upbringing, and the social context at the time of his writing. The relationship between John and Elisha is refreshing though - for me it shows a special kind of hope and understanding between men, their coming of age, and suggests the changes that is to come in Baldwin's own future.


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