The theme of love is central in Go Tell It on the Mountain, especially in relationship to family issues, religion, and identity. James Baldwin described the novel as a “confession of love.”
The protagonist, John Grimes, is locked into a conflict with his stepfather, Rev. Gabriel Grimes. This antagonism is related to John’s status as his stepson. John’s hatred for his stepfather is further fused with his love for the Christian God, in which he finds solace, and his decision to pursue a religious life, one from which his father had strayed despite his role as a preacher.
In contrast, John’s mother, Elizabeth, loves him deeply. The complex circumstances of his parentage include the death by suicide of his father, Richard. Believing that John needed a father figure, she turned to Gabriel; in the resulting family dynamic, she finds herself opposed to her husband because of her devotion to her son.
John is also torn in his love for Brother Elisha, a young preacher. John struggles with his sexual identity and cannot fully confront his desire for Elisha.