Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Baldwin is considered to be the heir to Richard Wright for giving a powerful voice to African Americans. Go Tell It on the Mountain is arguably his best work, one in which the self-pity and sentimentality of later novels are noticeably absent. It is, perhaps, best compared to his cogent, beautifully written essays, in which he also displays the ambiguities he felt as a black man, as a writer, and as a homosexual.

Of major interest to critics of his works have been the autobiographical elements of the novel. Baldwin himself was unclear on the issue, at one point remarking that his characters and plots are distortions and therefore true fictions but at another point revealing that he thought constantly about his own father in writing the novel. Certainly the themes of the book arose from Baldwin’s own life experiences, but the incidents in it are probably fabrications in the true meaning of the word. Such a gifted writer could not possibly rely on memory without elaboration.

It is in the context of Baldwin’s relationship with Richard Wright that several critics have approached Go Tell It on the Mountain. As his first novel, the book owes a considerable debt to Wright’s works. One critic even goes so far as to say that the novel is proof for Baldwin that he is worthy of standing in Wright’s shadow; once this work was accomplished, Baldwin could cast his own. Horace Porter finds Baldwin’s antecedents in the works of...

(The entire section is 489 words.)