Critical Context (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series)

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Giovanni’s Room appeared eight years after the appearance of Alfred Kinsey’s Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948), which quickly became a nonfiction bestseller. Two homosexual novels, Gore Vidal’s The City and the Pillar (1948) and Truman Capote’s Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948), were on the best-seller list during 1949. Despite the reluctance of Americans to accept homosexuality as a lifestyle, their consciousness about the subject was decidedly being raised.

In the eight years from 1948 to 1956, a rash of literary works appeared that dealt with male homosexuality more directly and forthrightly than any previous works of contemporary literature had. Notable among these are James Barr’s Quatrefoil (1950), Alberto Moravia’s Two Adolescents (1948; English translation, 1951), Arthur A. Peters’s Finistère (1951), and Tennessee Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955).

Baldwin has been much interested in homosexuality as a literary theme, and his earlier novel Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953) examines homosexuality and heterosexuality closely in juxtaposition to each other, implying in indirect ways that there is more tenderness in homosexuality than in heterosexuality. Nevertheless, the characters in Go Tell It on the Mountain experience little more long-term personal fulfillment than David does in Giovanni’s Room.