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book discussions > Discussion: Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin

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message 1: by Rona (new)

Rona Fernandez (ronagirl9) | 104 comments Just a reminder that on March 1st, we will start our discussion of James Baldwin's 'Go Tell it on the Mountain' as part of our first LFPC Classics reading series. Here's a bit of background about Baldwin and the book's impact:

(excerpted from http://www.knowledgerush.com/kr/biogr...)

James Baldwin (August 2, 1924 - December 1, 1987) was an African-American novelist and essayist. Most of Baldwin's work deals with racial and sexual issues in the mid-20th century United States. His work is notable for the deeply personal - even courageous - way in which he explores questions of identity and meaning. His novels mine all the complex, social and psychological pressures related to being both black and homosexual at a time well before the social, cultural or political equality of these groups could be assumed.
Baldwin's stepfather, David Baldwin, was a factory worker and a store-front preacher; James was the first of nine children.

His most important support came from his idol Richard Wright, whom he had called "the greatest black writer in the world for me". Wright helped him to secure the Eugene F. Saxon Memorial Award. Wright and Baldwin became friends for a time, and Baldwin titled a collection of essays Notes of a Native Son, in clear reference to Wright's enraged and despairing novel Native Son.

Baldwin, like many American authors of the time, left to live in Europe for an extended period of time beginning in 1948. His first destination was Paris where he followed in the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Richard Wright, and many others.

When Baldwin returned to America, he became actively involved in the Civil Rights Movement. He marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. to Washington D.C.

From AALBC's web site: http://reviews.aalbc.com/go_tell_it_o...

Go Tell It on the Mountain is considered to be James Baldwin's greatest novel. Like much of Baldwin's writing, it draws heavily on his own intense childhood experiences with religious doubt, racism, sexual ambivalence, and a complex relationship with a difficult father. The entire book takes place on the fourteenth birthday of John Grimes, the son of a fire-and-brimstone revivalist preacher, who finds himself increasingly alienated from his bitter, authoritarian father, his religious faith, and his community. Baldwin treats the young man's battle with Manichaean choices---flesh or spirit, community or individualism, conversion or heresy---with masterful sensitivity and insight.

Go Tell It on the Mountain is filled with biblical references that evoke the spirit of the black church and a realism that brings to life the Harlem of the 1930s, a northern ghetto whose inhabitants were still struggling with southern demons. Baldwin, in a 1984 interview with the Paris Review, captured what he was trying to say in the novel about all of us and about his own life: "[Writing Go Tell It on the Mountain:] was an attempt to exorcise something, to find out what happened to my father, what happened to all of us, what had happened to me and how we were to move from one place to another." Its brilliant style and sophisticated portrait of a young man struggling with complex issues made this one of the landmark novels of the postwar period.

From Donald Barr's 1953 New York Times review of the book: "Judicious men in their chairs may explain the sociology of guilt, and so explain Negro religion away. Mr. Baldwin will not have it away. In this beautiful, furious first novel, there are no such reductions."


message 2: by Hazel (new)

Hazel | 191 comments I'll go find my copy! Thank you, Rona.


message 3: by Wilhelmina (new)

Wilhelmina Jenkins | 2049 comments I'm excited!


message 4: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca | 386 comments Ready to start with the group. :)


message 5: by Rona (new)

Rona Fernandez (ronagirl9) | 104 comments Hello everyone, and welcome to the LFPC discussion of James Baldwin's novel, 'Go Tell it on the Mountain'. I'm excited to explore this book with all of you as part of our first 'Classics' discussion!

Building on Mistinguettes' approach to our previous book discussion (for 'Daughters of the Stone'), I will post a series of questions/prompts each week about one of the three sections of the book, starting with the first: The Seventh Day. Then I will post a final prompt to capture any concluding thoughts, comments or questions that folks have. Please note that these are just prompts to get discussion flowing, so don't feel like you 'have' to answer the questions or even stay 'on topic'.

Thanks and look forward to hearing everyone's thoughts! --- Rona

Part One: The Seventh Day
We meet the protagonist of the novel, John Grimes, in this section, and find out that 'The Seventh Day' is also his 14th birthday. What do you think the significance of this day is for John? How does the way his family deal with (or not deal with) his birthday reflect his status? What does John want and what stands in his way?


message 6: by Hazel (new)

Hazel | 191 comments Poor John. He longs so much to be recognised, to have his birthday acknowledged by his family. He is in such agony as he waits to see if there will be anything- a word, a greeting, a special breakfast. Hopeful, but fearful, he wishes to be recognised and celebrated, but expects to be forgotten, to be overlooked.


message 7: by Qiana (last edited Mar 01, 2010 09:54AM) (new)

Qiana Whitted | 189 comments How appropriate that this novel begins on John's 14th birthday! This is a pivotal time, a threshold moment in which he will be forced to account for himself, to begin "setting his house in order" - as a Christian, as a man, as an African American. This is a common age when young people in black religious communities since the 19th century have been forced to account for their spiritual identity and openly confess and/or convert, and so I think it is particularly important that John awakens in the midst of doubt, indecision, and guilt.

He repeatedly talks about what has been expected of him - as his Father's son, as a member of a Pentecostal church - and his failure to live up to these expectations is what is slowly dawning on him. I love this line:
"Their singing cause him to believe in the presence of the Lord; indeed, it was no longer a question of belief, because they made that presence real. He did not feel it himself, the joy they felt, yet he could not doubt that it was, for them, the very bread of life" (7).

This is quite different from the anger that Richard Wright expresses when put under similar pressures; I like the way Baldwin is able to convey his religious doubts while acknowledging the deeply-held faith of others. Still, it is clear that he does not feel what the "Saints" do.

Also important is the way he talks about his sexual desires as part of his supposed sinfulness - whether it is what he does with his own hands, or through his feelings for Elisha. I hope we'll get to talk more about that!

And finally, I think one of the most beautiful ways that Baldwin expresses this transformational moment for John is one of the opening epigraphs from the gospel/blues song: "I looked down the line,/And I wondered." The lyric continues "...just to see how far that I was from God." I love this! Is John "wondering" (or "wandering") on his 14th birthday? The song is a great way to bring together John's religious aspirations with his restless spirit. Here's a link to the song by Rosetta Tharpe on YouTube.


message 8: by Rona (new)

Rona Fernandez (ronagirl9) | 104 comments Thanks Hazel and Qiana for your posts. Qiana, I was wondering if the 14th birthday had some special significance in for African-American folks, so thanks for shedding light on that. I also appreciate how Baldwin has John acknowledging the deep sense of spirituality that the people around him (e.g. Elisha especially, whom he wants to emulate) have, and how he masterfully articulates John's ambivalence about wanting to follow that path---on the one hand, he knows he 'should' and he wonders (wanders? ;) whether that's the path for him, but then he ends up in the movie theater and thinks about wanting to throw away the life that seems to have been predestined for him (that he was going to be a preacher, etc.) for the pleasures of the secular world. I really loved how this ambivalence really plays out throughout the book, until the moment of his conversion really---and how that ambivalence / confusion / doubt is not just John's, but it happens to everyone else too, even his holier-than-thou father, and therefore Baldwin humanizes all the characters and makes them more complex and more real.


message 9: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca | 386 comments This is going to be a great dicussion. I love your thoughts and for shedding light on for me, because I am new to reading LFBPC and the classics. Thank you.


message 10: by Hazel (last edited Mar 02, 2010 05:41AM) (new)

Hazel | 191 comments I finished it last night, and feel rather overwhelmed, like I'd just lived through one of those cathartic, soul-stirring sermons. My edition has an excellent introduction by British writer/editor Andrew O'Hagan Although the book is clearly autobiographical, I'd forgotten that Baldwin himself had been a boy-preacher, and that this was his first novel. Now I have to look for his memoirs/essays.


message 11: by Riz (new)

Riz | 1 comments Hi, I have been a LFBPC member for a while, but just never had time to read any of the books. I am so excited about this classics idea. I think it will be a great discussion, and I really appreciate your diligince with the prompts, Rona!

Ciao,
Riz


message 12: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca | 386 comments Also important is the way he talks about his sexual desires as part of his supposed sinfulness - whether it is what he does with his own hands, or through his feelings for Elisha. I hope we'll get to talk more about that

I look forward to reading your thoughts on this one too Quiana. When I read it I though there had to be more about the sin than a boy just trying to keep up with a little competition.


message 13: by Hazel (new)

Hazel | 191 comments Rebecca wrote: "Also important is the way he talks about his sexual desires as part of his supposed sinfulness - whether it is what he does with his own hands, or through his feelings for Elisha. I hope we'll get ..."

Yes, from the very beginning and repeated throughout the book is this idea that sexual=sinful. So John's natural feelings (confusing enough for an adolescent) become a source of shame and must be hidden. The adults' sexual behaviour is illicit and shameful and must be masked by hypocrisy. (I'm trying not to say too much for fear of spoilers.)


message 14: by Rashida (new)

Rashida | 264 comments I'm having a hard time processing the novel and giving objective analysis. I'm so sad and angry about the lives of these characters. This has to mean this is powerful writing. But I'm having a hard time saying to myself that I "liked" it. It was too painful. Now that's out the way, wooh, I can try to focus on those excellent questions, Rona.

I think that John just wanted to be happy, in his own skin, in his own circumstances, getting love back from the people he gave love to (and not be judged for that). The two things that got in his way were his step-father and his religion. I really think the religion was a mask that the monster, Gabriel, hid behind. And he (Gabriel) would, as his sister (Florence) points out, make everyone miserable no matter if he was saved, or not. But I also had a hard time looking at this and seeing how anyone of the people in this novel who adhered to this particular brand of Christianity could be characterized as "happy" people. Such that, we know John's mother loves him tremendously, but even she becomes one of the things standing in the way of John attaining what he wants, because of her religious beliefs.

I get that a belief in a higher power was a solace to so many whose lives were so difficult and who suffered so much unjustness. But, in as much as people choose or tailor the specifics of their religious beliefs to some extent, I can't fathom why this community (or any) stuck with an incarnation that in of itself seems to cause so much unhappiness.

I worry greatly for John. I don't see how he can reconcile the strictures of this life with himself as he grows older (using Baldwin as a template for what hye will be like as he ages). And I think that he rightly understands that this 14th year is a turning point for him towards that manhood. I think he is looking for his family's acknowledgment of that day, as much to show their love, as to show a recognition of his individual identity, and his personhood. It seems that part of the requirement of his saving is indeed to give up that singularity of personality in favor of devotion of oneself to one universal form of humanness. And I think he rightly perceives that his 14th birthday is one of the last days when the possibility of that unique and flawed humanity can be recognized and praised, as he has not yet, but seems to be marching inevitably toward, that conversion experience.

As I said, I worry for him. And his mother. And his siblings. And his aunt. His father: pshaw. I kid.

But I am greatly confused as to Baldwin's greater point about faith here. And I suspect this is something that we will talk about towards the end of the discussion. But, although the resolution seems to embrace faith. The actual experiences and consequences of it seem so tinged with negativity, right from this very start of the novel, that I just don't know what Baldwin's take away message is.


message 15: by Hazel (new)

Hazel | 191 comments Oh, I thought Baldwin was very clear.

We may need faith, some kind of faith. That may be an existential need, and certainly is a need if we are tested by severe oppression. So we can't get away from that. But we create our beliefs out of our own conflicts, perhaps primarily our fears and hatreds. And any such faith will be massively flawed, will lead to 'negativity'. So the 'man of God' seeks self-aggrandisement and humiliates the sinner; the man debases the woman; the woman denies the child; the policeman abuses the accused.

I find it hard to feel sorry for John's father. But it seems to me that he is so lacking in self knowledge that he can't begin to recognise his own motives. So he can't begin to change his behaviour, to become that righteous person he thinks he is called to be. I suppose the question may be,'What is the nature of his faith?' 'What is it he believes in?'


message 16: by Wilhelmina (new)

Wilhelmina Jenkins | 2049 comments I don't want to jump to the end either, but it seems to me that Baldwin differentiates between a religious experience that comes from within/from God, which is liberating and self-affirming, and religion imposed from outside, which can be oppressive and brutal.


message 17: by Hazel (new)

Hazel | 191 comments Ah, but we can find self-affirmation in brutality to and oppression of others. Religious folk have done and continue to do a great deal of that.

I'm reading some medieval history now, that considers the Spanish Inquisition and the institutionalised torture of their own people. Of course there are many other examples, including some very recent ones.


message 18: by Hazel (new)

Hazel | 191 comments Rona, I want to thank you again for suggesting we read the classics. This has given me so much to think about.


message 19: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca | 386 comments Is anyone finding the Baldwin's reference to colors intresting? like me? White obiviously holy, the red ribbon in Sarah's hair. Is the red ribbon significant? Are there any other colors that are significant in the story?


message 20: by Rona (new)

Rona Fernandez (ronagirl9) | 104 comments Great discussion everyone! Rashida, thanks for your honesty and vulnerability in pointing out how painful the book was for you. As you pointed out, 'must be good writing'! I often feel like strong writing provokes strong feelings/experiences for me, and not always pleasant!

I also feel you on the point of faith--or maybe I think religion is a better word. I think Grimes is very confused and frustrated by the hypocrisy he finds in his father's behavior in particular and is workign that out in his own way, as everyone needs to do on their own path to finding a faith/spirituality that resonates with them personally. I won't jump to the end of the book yet, but suffice it to say that I think John's ambivalence and even rage in this first section sets up the conflict within himself and within the generations of his family very well--he's the very embodiment, I think, of all the conflicting forces at play between the different characters of the book (his father, his mother, his aunt florence and later as we'll see with his father's first wife, deborah), and his untested faith is sort of the battleground on which this conflict plays out.


message 21: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1232 comments Mod
I feel really stupid asking this but I must since I'm turning in my copy of the book back to the library tomorrow. Who was John's half brother Roy's mother? Perhaps his parentage was explained early on and I didn't catch it or lost it as Roy kinda disappeared towards the end of the book, but since Deborah was childless and Elizabeth had John before she met Gabriel where did Roy came from?


message 22: by Rashida (new)

Rashida | 264 comments Elizabeth is his mom. Roy is younger than John. After they married, Elizabeth and Gabriel had Roy, Sarah, the baby (and possibly she's pregnant again now).


message 23: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1232 comments Mod
For some reason I was under the distinct impression that Roy was older. Perhaps just because he was so much wilder.


message 24: by Rashida (new)

Rashida | 264 comments I think John commented early on about how it made him feel ill at ease that even though Roy was younger than him, he was bigger, stronger, etc. I'll double check when I have the book with me later.


message 25: by Rona (new)

Rona Fernandez (ronagirl9) | 104 comments Roy is definitely younger---he's just the more outgoing and rough and tumble of the two. I had the same confusion at first as well, esp. when I read 'The Outing', one of Baldwin's short stories which is based on the same set of characters. But John is definitely the oldest, albeit overlooked, son--actually stepson--of Gabriel Grimes, and 'full' son of Elizabeth Grimes.


message 26: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1232 comments Mod
Ok. Now all my loose ends are tied...and I can proceed somewhat recklessly into the discussion...One thing that surprises me..this discussion is in its infancy and folks are already talking about the undercurrent of homosexuality...I've read other Baldwin books and here it seems only hinted at...thinking back on the Chris Abani book "Graceland" where the protagonist Elvis put on makeup and actually had a homosexual encounter it was hardly mentioned. I think that skillful authors can evoke themes in their audiences minds that resonate by merely hinting at things. The just a little too long, lingering wrestling hold of John and Elisa was a linchpin in the story for me.


message 27: by Mistinguette (new)

Mistinguette Smith | 191 comments Go Tell It is not just a coming of age novel about an extraordinarily perceptive young black man, it's also a document of the 'coming of age' of black people post-migration. Because it is set in the years when the Harlem Renaissance is a dim memory and the Black Power movement not yet born, Go Tell It describes a painful and awkward time in African-American history. I think when Baldwin wrote it, this story had not been told before; re-reading it 50 years later, it's a story I would rather forget.

Like Rebecca, I am fascinated by his use of color, especially the invasive presence of blackness, both as symbol and as race. Baldwin's use of dirt and dust as a metaphor for that which has been used up but is still in use strikes me as an unusual sensitivity for a male writer. And the way we takes us into Pentecostal life, so that we experience it as insiders rather than as tourists, is a measure of his incredible talent.


message 28: by Hazel (new)

Hazel | 191 comments It struck me that the word black was always used as an epithet for everything ugly or worthless. Thank God we don't hear that much anymore.


message 29: by Hazel (new)

Hazel | 191 comments William wrote: "Ok. Now all my loose ends are tied...and I can proceed somewhat recklessly into the discussion...One thing that surprises me..this discussion is in its infancy and folks are already talking about the undercurrent of homosexuality......"

In my case it may be because I'm aware that Baldwin's sexuality was a major issue for him. So perhaps I'm attuned to those undercurrents.


message 30: by ColumbusReads (new)

ColumbusReads (coltrane01) | 3677 comments Mod
Rona, that's where I heard these voices before - The Outing. I just pulled my copy of Going to Meet the Man: Stories from the shelf and started re-reading these brilliant stories. Some of the same characters are in the introductory story, The Rockpile, as well. Thanks for bringing that to our attention...

Just finished the book this morning and although I enjoyed it immensely, I must admit some of the biblical references had me stumped (wasn't alway's paying attention in Sunday School). I'll keep my library copy of the book and the King James version of the Bible close at hand during the discussion...That being said, I'm glad Baldwin chose an autobiographical novel as his first novel to give us a glimpse inside this extraordinary person & writer.


message 31: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca | 386 comments Who is John refering to as "they" "he would face them and tell them how much he hated the, how they had make him suffer, how he would pay them back"?

Another
"There is a fool like him him in every family" - Why does John say he felt like the "fool of his family"?


message 32: by Wilhelmina (new)

Wilhelmina Jenkins | 2049 comments How autobiographical is this book? Was Baldwin's family structure the same as John's?


message 33: by Hazel (new)

Hazel | 191 comments Which page, Rebecca?


message 34: by Hazel (new)

Hazel | 191 comments Wilhelmina wrote: "How autobiographical is this book? Was Baldwin's family structure the same as John's?"

I think it was similar, Mina. If I remember correctly, Baldwin was the oldest of several siblings and his stepfather was a preacher. O'Hagan says at 14 he had a 'prolonged religious crisis' (Baldwin's words in Notes of a Native Sun) and then became a preacher. 'Mountain is the book I had to write if I was ever going to write anything else. I had to deal with what hurt me most. I had to deal with my father.... In my mind's eye I could see him, sitting at the window, locked up in his terrors; hating and fearing every living soul including his children who had betrayed him, too, by reaching towards the world which had despised him.'


message 35: by Rona (new)

Rona Fernandez (ronagirl9) | 104 comments William, I also thought the references to homosexuality was much more oblique in this book than in other of Baldwin's works. Then again, the first novel of Baldwin's I ever read was 'Giovanni's Room' which is much more overtly 'gay' so that may be why. I wonder if it was a conscious decision on Baldwin's part to make it so subtle because John wasn't quite ready to / unable to recognize those feelings within him as sexual towards Elisha? That's my guess.

I always thought the "they" that John / Baldwin was referring to was the 'Saints' and his father---the powers-that-be within the church. I'm not sure though.

Great discussion, folks! Great to read everyone's comments.


message 36: by Wilhelmina (last edited Mar 04, 2010 09:33PM) (new)

Wilhelmina Jenkins | 2049 comments I wonder if there were more overtly homosexual, mainstream books at the time. Back then, this may have been about as far as he could go without losing his readers.

It was painful to me to see how physically ugly he found himself. I'm afraid that a young man whose appearance was similar to Baldwin's might still consider himself ugly.


message 37: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca | 386 comments Hazel wrote: "Which page, Rebecca?"

the they quote - refer to page 42

the fool quote = refer to page 40.

Let me know what you think Hazel


message 38: by Hazel (new)

Hazel | 191 comments I was reading around on the net last night (so no guarantees of accuracy!) and read that young Baldwin's stepfather found him ugly. And of course we could have a long discourse about the prevailing ideas of beauty, and why so many are still left outside, looking in.

Ah, found it, Rebecca.
"There is a fool like him him in every family" - Why does John say he felt like the "fool of his family"? I thought like the man in the poster, John was attracted to the 'wicked woman'. This comes after he walks along Fifth Ave, looking at the beautiful, rich (ie White) people, wishing he could be accepted by them. on the day that he would bring himself to their attention, they would surely love and honour him. This was not his father's opinion. his father said that all white people were wicked.... (Don't want to quote too much for fear of spoilers. Is that ok?)

Who is John refering to as "they" "he would face them and tell them how much he hated the, how they had make him suffer, how he would pay them back"?

It seemed to me he thought primarily of his father who insists there is only one future for him, despite his longing for more. In the narrow way, the way of the cross, there awaited him only humiliation for ever; there awaited him, one day, a house like his father's house, and a church like his father's, and a job like his father's where he would grow old and black with hunger and toil. All this follows his walking through Central Park and the city streets and dreaming about, yearning for, the wider world. At times during this walk he is like Jesus tempted on the mountain by Satan, 'all this could be yours'.


message 39: by Mistinguette (last edited Mar 05, 2010 07:13AM) (new)

Mistinguette Smith | 191 comments Hazel wrote: "All this follows his walking through Central Park and the city streets and dreaming about, yearning for, the wider world. At times during this walk he is like Jesus tempted on the mountain by Satan, 'all this could be yours'"

Yes, I thought that, too. And the rest of Go Tell It -- and in fact, much of Baldwin's fiction -- wrestles with this idea : all this could be yours if you just...forsake Them. Them being your family. Them being the community that knows and loves you, even if it doesn't accept you. Them being those who would deny the truth of who you love & desire. Them being black people, poor people, American people, people trapped in ghettos of imagination and circumstance.

And isn't this the very temptation that Saints seek to help their youth to avoid - the freedom of desire without redemption, the freedom of the world without community?

SPOILER: The story of Florence's youthful escape and what it cost her to forsake Them, including her inability to ever fully come back home, I find particularly poignant.


message 40: by Hazel (last edited Mar 05, 2010 07:35AM) (new)

Hazel | 191 comments Mistinguettes wrote: "all this could be yours if you just...forsake Them. Them being your family. Them being the community that knows and loves you, even if it doesn't accept you...."

I would say, 'Them being the community that claims you, despite not truly knowing/loving/accepting you'. Because it seems to me that John's community doesn't encourage self-knowledge/self-acceptance, and certainly not acceptance of diversity (not just divergent sexuality, but individuality). Part of my fear for John is that he will never find those things among the Saints, 'people trapped in ghettoes of imagination and circumstance'. (Perfect clause, Mistinguettes!)

Yes, Florence's story breaks my heart.


message 41: by Janet (new)

Janet | 224 comments all

thanks for having decided that we read this. I'm only a third of he way through so I'm just scanning people's comments for the moment; will reread them carefully once I've read more.

Was thinking about what I have read (of the novel and of your comments) and was trying to name the sense I have of the writing - closed, of-a-certain-time and I realized that what comes through most strongly for me is the sense of airlessness. It's not just that the style/pace of writing seems a little tiny bit 'off' or old, or stilted; it's more that Baldwin seems to have deliberately sucked the air out of the 'room' - so that John (and others) struggle not just to make sense and meaning, but literally struggle to breathe.
sort of.
it's a powerful book. again/still I'm so grateful to this group for sending these books our way.

janet


message 42: by Hazel (new)

Hazel | 191 comments it's more that Baldwin seems to have deliberately sucked the air out of the 'room' - so that John (and others) struggle not just to make sense and meaning, but literally struggle to breathe.

Ahh, that's why I was so exhausted at the end!


message 43: by Rona (new)

Rona Fernandez (ronagirl9) | 104 comments Here's the second prompt to keep our discussion going on 'Go Tell it on the Mountain' by James Baldwin. Again, don't feel compelled to have to answer the question(s) I pose--this is just to get the discussion going.

Part Two: The Prayers of Saints
Each chapter in this section is dedicated to one of the three principal adult figures in young John's life: his Aunt Florence, his father Gabriel, and his mother Elizabeth. What did the flashbacks in this section do to flesh out John's history and that of his family? Which characters did you sympathize with or dislike?


message 44: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca | 386 comments Hazel wrote: "Mistinguettes wrote: "all this could be yours if you just...forsake Them. Them being your family. Them being the community that knows and loves you, even if it doesn't accept you...."

I would say..."



Me as well Hazel reguarding Florence. Can help me clear some confusion. As I enter Gabriels prayers I am a bit lost. They just had the 24 Elders revival. There is talk of marriage to Deborah. Then on page 128 I am lost who is "the first Royal?" What happened to Deborah? He had let Esther die , Royal die and Deborah died barren? Did he have Roy and John with Elizabeth? I am so lost.


message 45: by Hazel (new)

Hazel | 191 comments To avoid spoilers, Rebecca, should I send you a message? If you keep on reading, it does become clear.


message 46: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1232 comments Mod
I have heard a couple discussants say that they felt Florence's story to be the most heartbreaking. While I empathize with Florence's tribulations I think that overall she is one of the stronger and more self reliant characters. She did walk out of her sickly but domineering mothers house to strike out on her own. She did kick her boozing womanizing husband out though she later regretted it when he was killed overseas. And she was always stronger and more clear-eyed than her brother Gabrial.

To me the most tragic story is that of Esther and Royal. Esther to me was 'purer' than any of these hypocritical religious fanatics. Although a willing accomplice in her sexual entanglements with Gabrial she was used and discarded by him at his whim. Or when he decided he couldn't sleep with a harlot. That his hypocracy goes unnoticed by him is astounding but replayed constantly in real life by our nations religious leaders. But why did Esther and Royal have to die because of the sanctimonious, repugnant and deluded beliefs of this so called preacher? Esther's story was an unbelievable tragedy.


message 47: by Wilhelmina (new)

Wilhelmina Jenkins | 2049 comments Elizabeth's story is the most painful to me. What could be worse than living every day with a sanctimonious fool who credits himself with having "saved" you, then makes your life and your child's life miserable?


message 48: by Hazel (last edited Mar 08, 2010 12:54PM) (new)

Hazel | 191 comments William, I feel like Florence was punished for her strength. I agree about Esther's purity. She was far more honest than Gabriel.

I feel strongly that Baldwin created real people here. Perhaps that's why we respond to them as individuals, some characters resonating more with me, some with you. I wonder if he was a student of human nature (I find his representation of unconscious motivations, behaviour patterns etc very convincing.) or if several of the characters were closely based on real life individuals.


message 49: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca | 386 comments I agree and with her mother making her condesending remarks as she was walking out the door it must of hurt but yet in a sense I think it might have been mixed with some defiance with and a I'll show you type of attitude.


message 50: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1232 comments Mod
Oh yeah, Hazel. Go Tell, as Rona points out in her intro.."draws heavily on his own intense childhood experiences"..and is semi autobiographical. ANd since these were real characters or at the least amalgamations of real people in Baldwins lives we as readers can grasp their humanity from his trenchant descriptions.

Mina, Elizabeth's story is also sad but for some reason I feel hope for her...I get the sense that she will not suffer her fool much longer.


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