James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room follows the story of David, the narrator, and his affair with another man, the titular Giovanni. When the story opens, David relays that he had proposed to his girlfriend, Hella, but she had first gone to Spain in order to contemplate his offer and has now gone on to the United States. David thus returns to Paris from the South of France, where he had been waiting for her. He recollects his childhood; how his mother had died when he was five years old; his distant relationship with his father, who saw him as more of a friend than a son; and his first love, a boy named Joey. This first gay encounter frightened David, and, in order to reassert his masculinity, he distanced himself from Joey and even started bullying him. He now regrets his actions, but he was never able to make amends with Joey himself.
David began to model himself after his father, who often got drunk and led a destructive lifestyle. One day, while driving while drunk, David crashes his car. His stay in the hospital allows him to talk more candidly with his father than ever before, and when his father admits, helpless, that he does not know what to do with David, David suggests that his father allow him to skip college and get a job. His father agrees, and David moves to France.
In Paris, David has accepted his same-sex attraction, although he is still discreet about it. A year after moving there, David finds himself in need of financial help and turns to another gay friend of his, Jacques. After their conversation, the two men go to Guillaume’s gay bar, where David meets the new bartender, Giovanni. The two become friends, and later, they all go to a restaurant for oysters and white wine. Giovanni relays that he and Guillaume have had an affair, and Jacques tells David that there is no shame in feeling love. David and Giovanni then spend the night together.
Afterwards, David moves into Giovanni’s room. The room is constantly dark, because the men cannot keep curtains open, for their own privacy and safety. David receives a letter from Hella, informing him that she is returning soon. Suddenly thrust into another crisis about his sexuality, David sets out to find a woman to sleep with in order to prove to himself that he is still attracted to them. He spends the night with a woman named Sue, and, upon returning to Giovanni’s room, discovers Giovanni in a state of panic. Giovanni has just been fired from Guillaume’s bar.
When Hella returns, David stops going to Giovanni’s room and starts planning his marriage to her once more. He and Hella bump into Giovanni and Jacques once in a bookshop, and Hella notes that she dislikes Jacques’ mannerisms. David escorts her back to her hotel room and then visits Giovanni once more. He tells him that while he loves Giovanni, he cannot be in a relationship with him, because it would mean sacrificing his manhood. After this incident, Giovanni begins a relationship with Jacques instead. David runs into them several times, and it notably upsets him to see them together.
Eventually, David learns that Giovanni and Jacques are no longer together, and that Giovanni may have a job at Guillaume’s again. However, soon after, news of Guillaume’s murder reaches him. According to the papers, Giovanni is the prime suspect. David imagines that Giovanni had gone to Guillaume’s bar to ask for his job back and offered sex in exchange for it. He imagines that even after sleeping with him, Guillaume denied Giovanni the job, which prompted Giovanni to kill him.
David tries to focus on his relationship with Hella, moving back to the South of France, but to no avail. Eventually, David leaves for Nice for a few days, where he sleeps with a sailor. Hella discovers them and tells David that she had had her suspicions about his sexuality all along. Unable to accept it, she then returns to the United States.
(The entire section contains 2668 words.)
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