Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Harlem. Predominantly African American neighborhood in New York City’s Upper Manhattan. Harlem is the scene of the real-time narrative of the novel, an urban community in which the lives of the central characters intertwine. Harlem is also symbolic of the historic northward migration of African Americans seeking escape from the Jim Crow South in the early twentieth century. As a physical marker of historical transition, Harlem symbolizes an ambiguous free space for the Grimes family, providing the sanctuary of a black-defined neighborhood in America, but also signifying restricted space on another level for the characters. For example, when John Grimes and his biological father, Richard, try to create a life outside the boundaries of Harlem, they must struggle with external racial barriers and internalized mental barriers to do so.

*American South

*American South. As a region, the South resonates with symbolic importance in the memories, prayers, and visions of the novel’s characters. None of the real-time action of the novel occurs in the South; however, the South is symbolic of the psychological and historical origins of the Grimes family and other key characters. The South also works symbolically on other levels. It signifies the legacy of slavery in American history, with all of its physical, mental, spiritual and political implications for the characters, for African American history, and for the country as a whole. As embodied in the consciousness of the characters, the South...

(The entire section is 631 words.)

Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

125th and Lenox Ave., Harlem, 1950. Published by Gale Cengage

The Rise of Harlem
The Harlem area of New York City, where the Grimes family resides, is internationally famous as a...

(The entire section is 880 words.)

Literary Style

(Novels for Students)

The setting of this novel—the impoverished part of New York known as Harlem, and more specifically the...

(The entire section is 576 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Go Tell It on the Mountain employs many of the techniques of autobiographical fiction. The author's natural familiarity with the...

(The entire section is 98 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

If Baldwin's fiction seems suffused with social issues, they are there primarily because they exist in the lives of his characters. Baldwin...

(The entire section is 373 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Novels for Students)

1935: America was, like most of the world, in the midst of a long economic depression, which began with the collapse of the...

(The entire section is 313 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Novels for Students)

The adult characters in this book have moved to New York from the South, a move that was common among blacks m the early decades of the...

(The entire section is 189 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Novels for Students)

James Baldwin, Author, a videocassette from the Black Americans of Achievement collection, available from Schlessinger Video, 1994....

(The entire section is 102 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Novels for Students)

Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison's 1992 novel Jazz takes place in Harlem in the 1920s and gives a stylized...

(The entire section is 344 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Novels for Students)

Shirley Allen, "Religious Symbolism and Psychic Reality in Baldwin's Go Tell It On The Mountain" in...

(The entire section is 801 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Baldwin, James. Conversations with James Baldwin. Edited by Fred Standley and Louis H. Pratt. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1989. The conversations are the widest-ranging collection in one book. Their subject areas are broad, including race, hatred, sex, the new South, and the role of the writer. The interviewers include a similarly broad array of writers, philosophers, and people in political and social movements, such as Studs Terkel, David Frost, Nat Hentoff, and Josephine Baker.

Campbell, James. Talking at the Gates: A Life of James Baldwin. New York: Viking, 1991....

(The entire section is 656 words.)