The troubled relationship between father and son in the text is drawn from Baldwin's actual life, as is the setting for their conflict and interaction. The agon between Gabriel and John seems to closely resemble that which really existed between Baldwin and his father, especially in its locale in the church. This was the platform and real-life landscape where a struggle for identity took place.
Baldwin performed the role of a preacher as a young man and the church was a major part of his young life. The depiction of Baldwin's time spent in the church in Go Tell It on the Mountain is thus factual and autobiographical.
The novel's depiction of Baldwin's father very closely resembles the version of his father that Baldwin draws in the essay, "Notes of a Native Son."
Elsewhere in Baldwin's fiction, the father figure is similarly characterized as a stern man with little ability or willingness to yield affection to his eldest son. A preacher and a man of definite beliefs, Baldwin's father seems to have tried to shape his son James to follow in his footsteps, and for a time the future writer did just that.
Baldwin was the oldest child in his family in real life, as he is in Go Tell It on the Mountain, and his father's backstory, as recounted in the novel, was rooted in the South.
The elements of the novel that deal with the fledgling and complicated sexuality of John Grimes are also autobiographical. In other works of fiction like Giovanni's Room, Another Country and Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone, Baldwin also explores the issues of sexual identity and racial identity. These issues spring from real experiences.
We can see that the basic facts of the Grimes family and the central conflicts of the novel relating to religion, sexuality and identity are effectively autobiographical, although they are rendered in the novel with creative force and with poetic license.