Themes and Meanings
The most important theme in Just Above My Head concerns homosexuality. Baldwin was plagued throughout his life by guilt about his openly acknowledged homosexual nature. One of the reasons he moved to Paris was that Europeans were much more tolerant of such proclivities at a time when homosexuals were treated like vicious criminals in the United States. Through the character of Arthur, Baldwin attempts to show that homosexuals deserve understanding because they can be valuable contributors to society. In several places in his novel, Baldwin provides lengthy and detailed descriptions of sexual behavior between two males, including sodomy, fellatio, and mutual masturbation. Some readers might find these descriptions offensive; Baldwin, however, believed that genuine love between two individuals of the same sex was just as beautiful as heterosexual love.
The meaning of the title Just Above My Head does not become clear until the end of the book. Baldwin’s description of Arthur’s death contains the following sentence:He starts down the steps, and the steps rise up, striking him in the chest again, pounding between his shoulder blades, throwing him down on his back, staring down at him from the ceiling, just above his head.
Just Above My Head was the last important work Baldwin penned, and he died eight years after it was published. Throughout the novel he implies that the shadow of death is hovering over his own head...
(The entire section is 538 words.)