Giovanni’s Room

“I hoped to burn out, through Hella, my image of Giovanni and the reality of his touch-I hoped to drive out fire with fire” (116). Continuing in Part two of James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room is David’s quest for self-assurance within his relationships, and especially his inability to see how he could possibly settle and have a life with Giovanni in what he considers his “filthy little room” (134). David’s grip on reality is somewhat unstable. This is manifested through David’s constant need for flight, his inability to focus on what is real to him and what is not. He merely knows that he needs to get away from Giovanni’s room, that he needs to escape Paris, and ultimately not even the person that he is left with, Hella, proves to be a sufficient reality. David’s denial plays a central role in the way he is able to lie to others and convince himself that his flight will finally end in some sort of “salvation,” that he will finally be at peace. But ultimately his guilt and the gradual realization of his true feelings by the end of the novel allow for anything but peace.

Fear is one underlying factor of David’s flight. One day as he walks down Raspail toward the cafes of Montparnasse, he is haunted by the traces of steps shared with Hella and Giovanni throughout Paris. He walks and remembers different streets, and while he mentions Hella, he can only picture Giovanni’s face. He mentions being afraid of what he would see in his face when he would tell him that he is leaving him, but then he goes on to say that this is not even his real fear. “My real fear was buried and was driving me to Montparnasse. I wanted to find a girl, any girl at all” (91). It seems that his fear is something that does not merely stem from the fact that he will undoubtedly have to leave Giovanni. Perhaps he is afraid to believe in the reason for which he is leaving him. Is he really leaving for Hella, or is he simply trying to convince himself that she is his only choice, that his future can hold no other possibility. But throughout Part Two, there is a constant sway of back-and-forth emotions in his mind. He is afraid to accept reality because he has no sense of one. And in order not to stop and think and consider the validity of his relationships, he has to be in constant flight. “For neither my father, nor Hella, was real at that moment. And yet even this was not as real as my despairing sense that nothing was real for me, nothing would ever be real for me again-unless, indeed, this sensation of falling was reality” (106).

David’s Americanness also somewhat prevents him from accepting the face of reality. He once relates not to his own morals, but to the morals instilled onto him through American values. “People have very dirty words for-for this situation…Besides, it is a crime-in my country, and after all, I didn’t grow up here, I grew up there” (78). David in some ways uses his Americanness to perhaps maintain a distance from Giovanni, and find ways to remain disconnected from him.

“The Americans always fly. They are not serious” (147). David, constantly in a state of motion, does not realize he will finally come to a standstill, or perhaps he does and that is why he wants to run as far as possible while he still can. When he exchanges his last words with Giovanni, he expresses something opening up in his mind, something that frightens him. It occurs to David that “in fleeing from [Giovanni’s] body, [he] confirmed and perpetuated his body’s power over [him]” (137). No matter how far he will try to get away, he will always have traces of Giovanni’s image in his head, something he will ultimately be unable to flee from. The lack of a structured reality, however prevents David from accepting his fate, and prevents him from realizing that he will not be able to have a life with Hella just as much as he cannot see himself being with Giovanni. Every step he takes leads him further into a state of terror and confusion, and David is fairly warned by Giovanni shortly before leaving him, when he says, “The Americans have no sense of doom, none whatever. They do not recognize doom when they see it” (136).

The use of the reflection is important in deconstructing the end of the novel when David stands before a mirror looking at his body, which is “under sentence of death.” “And [he] does not know what moves in this body, what this body is searching. It is trapped in [his] mirror as it is trapped in time and it hurries toward revelation,” as if cracking the mirror would set him free (158). But he is not able to run away from his reflection because, as he states, the key to his salvation, which cannot save his body, is hidden in his flesh. Therefore, while flight is a consistent theme throughout the novel, there comes this point when David perhaps realizes that he cannot run away any longer because it is impossible to run away from himself. All this time, he keeps stressing how important it is to get out of Giovanni’s room, but when he finally gets out, the problem, he realizes, was not that the room itself was being constricting, but that it is his own mind constricting him. This is obvious as after he leaves Giovanni, he is still terrorized in his thoughts. Everything the “filthy little room” held still trails behind him.


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