Giovanni's Room Additional Summary

James Baldwin


(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Giovanni’s Room begins with David standing in a great house in the south of France, looking at his reflection in the window as night falls. As he stands, drinking what will be the first of many drinks before the night ends, he casts his mind back over the chain of events leading him to this “most terrible morning of my life.” On this morning, his former lover Giovanni will die on the guillotine. The novel, divided into two parts, is one long retrospective view of David’s life, a series of brooding flashbacks that rehearse the story of his failed attempt to resolve his sexual identity crisis and understand his betrayal of Giovanni. With his former fiancée headed back home and his former lover sentenced to death, David is left alone to sort out his past life in order to see what he can make of his future. His nightlong vigil leaves him facing the dawn with a “dreadful weight of hope.”

While he regards his face in the darkening glass, he conjures up images of his early years in America, particularly his first homosexual experience with a young friend, Joey. He has always refused to admit the significance of this potent and defining event, lying to himself and everyone else to evade the shame of the “beast” inside that threatens to condemn him to an “unnatural” life. He fears the force of his awakened sexuality and adopts a pattern of flight to avoid coming to terms with it—flight from an interfering aunt and a distant, adulterous father, from meaningless friendships and pointless jobs. He finally flees his country, with the half-formed...

(The entire section is 646 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Adams, Stephen. “Giovanni’s Room: The Homosexual as Hero.” In James Baldwin: Modern Critical Views. New York: Chelsea House, 1986. Examines the novel in the context of Baldwin’s first four books, all of which reflect the troubled relationship between questions of personal identity and social survival. Suggests that Baldwin mourns the unrealized possibilities of homosexual love while celebrating its heroic and redeeming capacities.

Campbell, James. Talking at the Gates: A Life of James Baldwin. New York: Viking, 1991. A good narrative biography, with detailed notes and bibliography.

Fiedler, Leslie. “A Homosexual Dilemma.” In Critical Essays on James Baldwin, edited by Fred L. Standley and Nancy V. Burt. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1988. A critical response typical of some early reviews that found the novel a curiously melodramatic morality play. Still, Baldwin is seen as a religious writer who is to be congratulated for attempting a tragic theme, the loss of the last American innocence.

Goldstein, Richard. “Go the Way Your Blood Beats.” In James Baldwin: The Legacy, edited by Quincy Troupe. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989.

Kenan, Randall. James Baldwin. New York: Chelsea House, 1994.

Kinnamon, Keneth, ed. James...

(The entire section is 531 words.)