At least four of the characters in Just Above My Head are projections of the author himself. Hall Montana is Baldwin the novelist. Hall is a conservative heterosexual who works at conventional jobs and becomes a devoted father to two children. At one time in his life, Baldwin seriously considered getting married and trying to overcome his homosexual tendencies through leading a conventional life involving marriage and a steady job. He decided that such a course would be unfair to himself and to any woman he married. He could not continue to deny his homosexuality, and he could not indenture himself to the routine job and financial responsibilities that marriage would entail. Instead, he moved to Paris and led a precarious existence for many years as a freelance writer.
Arthur Montana, the gospel singer, is Baldwin the homosexual artist and has Baldwin’s middle name as his first name. Like Baldwin, Arthur is an acknowledged homosexual who has no intention of leading a conventional heterosexual life. Like Baldwin, Arthur goes to Europe and finds himself happier and more creative in the artistic world of Paris. Baldwin moved to Europe early in his career because the stigma of being black in the United States made him so angry and humiliated that he felt unable to be creative. He lived in France for most of his life and eventually was honored by being appointed a member of the Legion of Honor, the highest honor that can be given an artist in France.
Julia Miller, the most intriguing character in the book, is Baldwin the preacher....
(The entire section is 637 words.)
The only fully realized character in Just Above My Head is Hall Montana. As the narrator, he is present in every scene. Although he is seven years Arthur’s senior, he learns much from Arthur. Indeed, through Arthur, his whole philosophy of life is changed drastically. Arthur helps Hall to understand how a man can love another man, and Hall comes to accept this phenomenon without moral judgment, as merely an alternative form of loving.
Julia, one of the novel’s more compelling characters, is, nevertheless, quite stereotypical. A somewhat offensive prodigy who preaches until she is fourteen, Julia ultimately becomes deeply disturbed by her incestuous relationship with her father: “Every thrust of her father’s penis seemed to take away the life that it had given, thrust anguish deeper into her, into a place too deep for the sex of any man to reach.” Julia is too sexually distorted to think of marriage, although she is capable of leading a life that is fulfilling in other ways. Her way of loving is as far from conventional as Arthur’s is, although it is on the surface somewhat less noticeable to society as being divergent.
Although the book’s narrative is generated by Arthur’s death, Arthur in many ways remains a secondary character. He lives with conflict generated, on the one hand, from his guilt about being homosexual and, on the other hand, from the racial situation that becomes progressively tense during the course of...
(The entire section is 438 words.)