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Identity Formation in the First Three Novels of James Baldwin

Mary Buechler

Honors Thesis Department of English University of Notre Dame 2012

Thesis Advisor, Professor Jos E. Limn



With a nation as populous and demographically diverse as the United States, the task of finding a voice and a community daunts every last citizen. A crowds natural proclivity, of course, is to create categories which will gather similar people together for the express purposes of establishing a voice and a community. Typically, these categories are decided by factual descriptors such as race, sexuality, and religious affiliation; these might also be understood as historiocultural or religious identity constructs, respectively.But two problems arise. First, that the descriptors aforementioned are grossly general, and to call them cohesive categories is to pare them down to culturalidentity constructs with clearly-cut but rarely apt parameters. Second is that the categorical inclusion implies exclusion. The process of identity formation thus devolves into a series of ultimatums: acceptable or unacceptable, white or colored, straight or gay, religious or irreligious. [Americas] passion for categorization, life neatly fitted into pegs, writes James Baldwin, has led to an unforeseen, paradoxical distress; confusion, a breakdown of meaning. Those categories which were meant to define and control the world for us have boomeranged us into chaos; in which limbo we whirl, clutching the straws of our definitions (Everybodys 15). In other words, when exclusive categories force dire choices upon young men and women in the throes of identity formation, they begin clutching at straws to bind themselves to a categorya communitya bond that may be the result of a false identity formation. The United States obsession with cultural categories has endorsed an unhealthy procedure for American identity formation, and this deeply concerns our writer: The failure lies in [our] rejection of life, the human being, the denial of his beauty, dread, power, in


[our]insistence that it is his categorization alone which is real and which cannot be transcended (Everybodys 18, emphasis mine). James Baldwin, an expatriate writer of the 20th century, deals with the ideas of identity formation and what occurs when different cultural identities interact. As a man who fits into the marginalized American categories of black, homosexual, and irreligious, the idea of constructed cultural identities compromising ones own concept of his or her identity is particularly dear to Baldwin. His first three novels, Go Tell It on the Mountain(1953), Giovannis Room(1956), and Another Country (1962),follow very different characters in very different locations dealing with their failures to conform to the identity constructs of nationality, race, sexuality, and religion. Baldwins variety in the early years of his career may lead to the current critical understanding of his work as a loose network of themes without a necessary progression. Chronologically, hisfirst three novels came scattered among two books of essays, several short stories, and even a play, The Amen Corner(1954).The essays were often commissioned, so while they speak candidly to Baldwins own opinions on set topics, they cannot be said to spur from his natural concerns. At best, they may have begun the threads of thought that led him to his works of fiction. The Amen Corner, written just after Go Tell It on the Mountain, is commonly understood as a clarifying work to the latter that builds more critically on Baldwins concerns with the black church (Lynch 38-39). Furthermore, because The Amen Corner in many ways recasts and fleshes out the themes of Go Tell, Baldwin seems to avoid redundancy by changing his form from prose to theatre. Therefore,the play itself admits that it is more tangential than incorporate to the argument of his novels. Finally, Baldwin wrote of his short stories that I HAD A QUOTATION TO GO HERE AND NOW AM HAVING TO SEARCH FOR IT AGAIN. SOMETHING ABOUT CLEARING HIS MIND OF A THEME.Along with his


biographer David Leeming, I sense that Baldwin returns to the form of the novel to play out a particular conversation, from which he can depart only by using other forms like the essay, the short story, and the play (122). So none but his novels will be considered primary texts for this project on identity formation.The conversation was set in motion by his first novel, the semiautobiographical Go Tell It on the Mountain which practically wrote itself (Leeming 84), and he continued to respond to that conversation with Giovannis Room and partially concluded it with Another Country.1 Because they are so different in setting and character, Baldwins critics have thus far treated even his novels as relatively isolated works.What prevents them from conversing across novels is a word choice barrier. By using the standard terms of identity construct and identity formation to interpret their articles, the review of the critical literature suddenly opens up to a clear path through the first three novels: Margo Crawford and Michael Lynch speak of the United States as havinga historical characterof the white, straight, Christian bildungsroman that presses on Baldwins characters in Go Tell It on the Mountain(Crawford 77). This historical character comprises the aforementioned American identity constructs. They observe that when one does not fit the American model, he must either reshape himself to fit, or fail (Lynch 39).Meanwhile, Kathleen Drowne, Michael Fabre, and Trudier Harris-Lopez write that to leave America is not to erase it from ones consciousness, but they use their articles to discuss exclusivelyGiovannis Room(Fabre 46). These critics write that Baldwins places take on the features of characters psychological landscape, informed by the American identity constructs that they learned as children (Drowne 72; Harris-Lopez 24). In other words, the radical displacement to Europe does not allow any true separation from the overbearing American

A final word of support for my decision to consider only Baldwins first three novels in this discussion can be found from The Library of America publishing series. In 1998, they chose for their two Baldwin anthologies one volume of collected essays and one volume of the first three novels with only selected short stories.


identity constructs.Finally, Amy ReddingerusesAnother Country to propose that identity formation in Baldwin is a social process where a mans mental world is informed by and informing the socio-spatial dialectic (Reddinger 117). That is to say that Baldwins experiments with social setting in Another Country (mixing black and white, friend and relation, etc.) requires the reader to expand his understanding of identity from a private mental process to one that must be acted out for and by liberal communities. Critics treat these different ways of looking at identity formation by reading into separate books, which explains each critics general confinement to one facet of the conversation. But the progression of Baldwins first three novels link these ideas together in an unfolding thought experiment on identity formation, as my paper will seek to demonstrate. And so I propose that Baldwins first three novels, despite their host of differences, comprise an unfolding and responsive project that experiments with different methods of identity formation in the context of American categories.The novels cooperate with philosopher and anthropologist Ernest Gellnerstheory that a mans compliance with cultural identity constructs is, the idiom within which he was trained and within which he is effectively employable, is his most precious possession, his real entrance-card to full citizenship and human dignity, to social participation. The limits of his culture are the limits of his employability, his world, and his moral citizenship. CI &P16 Baldwins fiction explores the occasions when a man does not conform to American cultural identity constructs, whereby he is dispossessed, disenfranchised, and culturally unemployable. This leads to Baldwins conclusion that society is never anything less than a perfect labyrinth of limitations (Question 99). By this he means that all societal expectations, all identity constructs,


are in fact delimiting and destructive to a healthy identity formation.Go Tell It on the Mountain shows the unhealthy and incomplete identity formations that occur within the identity constructs of ones home-space in America. Giovannis Room picks up the theme by displacing the protagonist to Europe (as Baldwin tried to do himself) in order to work outside those American identity constructs and promote a genuine identity formation. When Giovannis Room only echoes the conclusions reached in Go Tell It on the Mountain, Baldwin realizes that the solution to proper identity formation is not a physical distance from American social constructs, but a psychological distance from them. He his third novel, Another Country, to discover a genuine identity formationthat uses a secure, liberal social space to overcome the pressures of American identity constructs. One will notice that, though I propose a new, comprehensive reading of all three texts, my analysis is most basically consistent with the aforementioned bibliography of Baldwin scholars.

Identity formation within existing racial, sexual, and religious American identity constructs

In the first section of Go Tell It on the Mountain, the day dawns on John Grimes fourteenth birthdayan age that catches him in the crux of identity formation. Already, several determined identities press upon him by way of the religious identity construct.The first sentence of the novel reports that the community always said that John would be a preacher when he grew up, just like his father. It had been said so often that John, without ever thinking about it, had come to believe it himself (Go Tell 3). The Harlem community expects John to undergo a


normative identity formation through the legacies of his family and the black church.2 For John, however, these are equivocal legacies. He is the illegitimate son of his mother and not his father, and he has not made the black church commitment of being saved. John considers the religious identity to be one for the distant future. When he looks at himself in the mirror today, on his fourteenth birthday, he sees the face of a stranger or a true identity he has yet to discover (Go Tell 20). What details he can decipher in the mirror get filtered through his father, the preacher: two great eyes, and a broad, low forehead, and the triangle of his nose, and his enormous mouth, and the barely perceptible cleft in his chin, which was, his father said, the mark of the Devils little finger (Go Tell 21). Trying to unriddle himself through his fathers eyes through those family and black church legaciesleads to a recognition that is a misrecognition (Crawford 77).John believes that his fathers imposing assessment of his identity must be right, and that John is somehow related to the devil. Even the misrecognition does not give him any assurance of identity, though: The principle of [his features] unity was undiscoverable, and he could not tell what he most passionately desired to know: whether his face was ugly or not (Go Tell 21). Some religious doubt lingers over this passage. Though John believes in his regrettable relationship with the devil and sin, he is not convinced that the association makes him ugly.In a simple, gut-felt way, he questions the veracity of identity constructs. As John contemplates the life that these family and church legacies demand of him, he bemoans that he had been raised in the truth. He could not claim, as African savages might be able to claim, that no one had brought him to the gospel (Go Tell 34). So the family and black church legacies make John accountable for (if not acquiescent to) a specifically Christian identity. This, too, is a recognition that is a misrecognition.

We can say normative in the sense that the community inculcates, without scrutiny, this idea into John himself.


John does have some intimations about his own identity, at least inasmuch as it does not align with the religious identity construct. The one identity figure that John claims for himself in this first section of Go Tell is that of Sisyphus at an eternal task, which is for John, getting rid of dust: John hated sweeping this carpet, for dust rose, clogging his nose and sticking to his sweaty skin, and he felt that should he sweep it forever, the clouds of dust would not diminish, the rug would not be clean. It became in his imagination his impossible, lifelong task, his hard trial, like that of a man he had read about somewhere, whose curse it was to push a boulder up a steep hill [] He had Johns entire sympathy. Go Tell 20 Dust becomes a recurring symbol in Go Tell, but we do not decode it until John is in the church on an empty Saturday evening, when he reminds us of Sisyphus again: In the air of the church hung, perpetually, the odor of dust and sweat; for, like the carpet in his mothers living-room, the dust of this church was invincible; and when the saints were praying or rejoicing, their bodies gave off an acrid, steamy smell, a marriage of the odors of dripping bodies and soaking, starched white linen. Go Tell 45 The passage emphasizes the gritty humanity of the church services over the clean divinity that we might expect. He identifies with man forever failing in his attempts to reach the divine forever failing the religious identity construct. Thus, the mention of dust here makes it a symbol of ordinary, sinful humanity as opposed to divinity. Johns perpetual fight with dust is his fight to beat out the human in order to reach the holya task as impossible to complete as the task of Sisyphus.3 Dust is mentioned twenty-five times during the John Grimes sections, all to the same effect that dust veiled [his] doubtful glory (Go Tell 15). Thus the figure with whom John most

It is also interesting to note that the use of an identity figurelike the Greek Sisyphus relies on a pagan myth, and therefore subtly challenges the Christianity of the black church.


closely identifies (but in whom he does not find a resolute identity) is the interminable worker, working out the dust of ordinary humanity from his life. Early in the novel, John also finds some premature semblance of his own identity through school and New York City which further disagrees with religious, but now even historiocultural identity constructs. Baldwin recounts an episode from Johns school life, wherein the principal singles John out for praise: That moment gave him, from that time on, if not a weapon at least a shield; he apprehended totally, without belief or understanding, that he had in himself a power that other people lacked; that he could use this to save himself, to raise himself (Go Tell 13). The suggestion that intellectual success could save John rivals the language of the black churchs experience of being saved, while the word raise rivals the language of Christian resurrection. The theme of strength from knowledge returns when John walks among the buildings of New York City, admiring the Public Library: he had never gone in because the building was so big that it must be full of corridors and marble steps, in the maze of which he would be lost and never find the book he wanted. And then everyone, all the white people inside, would know that he was not used to great buildings, or to many books, and they would look at him with pity. He would enter on another day, when he had read all the books uptown, an achievement that would, he felt, lend him the poise to enter any building in the world. Go Tell 31 John assumes that intellectual success will give him access to all the doors of cultured, American-city societyeven white society. Though he does not have that confident identity today, he hopes with conviction for tomorrow. Still, John does not think beyond racial identity constructs. He sees his own success as confirmed or denied by white onlookers. Baldwin expands on the boys understanding of New York in the same chapter, when John visits a local Harlem park: he struck out on a steep path overgrown with trees, and climbed a short distance


until he reached the clearing that led to the hill (Go Tell 27). Johns trailblazing through the brush in order to reach the top of a hill is the distinctly American (and perhaps nave) ideal of pulling oneself up by the bootstraps to arrive at a place of success. From this vantage point, John sees the skyline of New York City, still so far in the distance. Appropriately, the journey of this mid-twentieth century black boy to the precipice of the neighborhood hill still leaves him miles from the skyscrapers. John does not notice this irony, but instead lets his energy and sense of self build: he stood on the crest of the hill, hands clasped beneath his chin, looking down. Then he, John, felt like a giant who might crumble this city with his anger; he felt like a tyrant who might crush this city beneath his heel (Go Tell 27).To begin with, Baldwin reaffirms John by restating his name as an appositive of he. His individuality thus asserted, Johnplays a game of Champion over the City, foreseeing himself as a conqueror of the social system that the city represents.He imagines a displacement from Harlem to New York in order to achieve this. Eventually Johndoes check his awareness of racial realities in the city: on the summit of that hill he paused. He remembered the people he had seen in that city, whose eyes held no love for him. And he thought of their feet so swift and brutal, and the dark gray clothes they wore (Go Tell 27). He recalls the momentum and the bitter apathy of white society, which noticeably does not use the dust imagery of humanity without divinity.New York is, even in its fault, a more ethereal place for John. However, the fact that John must pause, and then remember the fact of racial discrimination indicates a capacity to transcend it. When he turns to make his retreat from the hill, John sees an elderly white man staring at him, again indicative of the white judgment as informed by historiocultural identity constructs (Go Tell 29). On the other hand, Harlem is full of the dust of humanity that many men never can slough off. Presumably, this is the result of men and women succumbing to those


historioculturalpressures. Every Sunday morning the streets between Johns home and the church fill with sleepy vagrants: men still wearing their Saturday-night clothes, wrinkled and dusty now, muddy-eyed and muddy-faced; and women with harsh voices and tight, bright dresses, cigarettes between their fingers or held tightly in the corners of their mouths. They talked, and laughed, and fought (Go Tell 4, emphasis mine). Competitive tension and sexual tension pervades the streets of Harlem, and not only the itinerants are subject to it. That night when John and young Brother Elisha transition from Harlem and into the space of the church, they carry those competitive and sexual tensions in with them. They comically rag on each other for poor workmanship, and then begin to wrestle: With both arms tightening around Johns waist he tried to cut Johns breath, watching him meanwhile with a smile that, as John struggled and squirmed, became a set, ferocious grimace. With both hands John pushed and pounded against the shoulders and biceps of Elisha, and tried to thrust with his knees against Elishas belly. Usually such a battle was soon over, since Elisha was so much bigger and stronger and as a wrestler so much more skilled; but tonight John was filled with a determination not to be conquered, or at least to make the conquest dear. Go Tell 48 The competitive and sexual tensions press up from the page. The boys interaction while cleaning the church is not so different from the talking, laughing, and fighting done in the streets. Their situation in Harlem informs their interactions, and puts pressure on their identity formations. Some in the novel fear that this historiocultural pressure results in environmental determinism, of which Johns younger brother Roy may be a victim.On several occasions, the narrator describes Roy as troublesome, as though this trouble [were] the beginning of the fulfillment of a prophecy (Go Tell 36). The community believes that Roy is bound to be like


them when he grew up, if the Lord did not change his heart (Go Tell 4). Thus the reader begins to understand the categorical ultimatum for identity in Harlem. In short, members of the Harlem community consider the religious identity to be the only alternative to the dusty, sinfulhistoriocultural identity. Of course, Roy rails against this unfair ultimatum between religion and failure: I aint looking to go to no jail. You think thats all thats in the world is jails and churches? (Go Tell 18).The problem with religious identity as a way out of ahistoriocultural identity is that both are identity constructs. But perhaps the dichotomy between jails and churches is not a false one for Harlemites. Whereas Baldwins Harlem is an appropriate metaphor for the spiritual meanness of the larger surrounding community, the church offers unconditional love from the divine (Leeming 4). Michael Lynchexplains the reasons for going to the threshing floor in the black church, claiming that it may be a longing for loving communion which feels so unlikely to happen in human relationships (38-39). The inescapable competitive and sexual tensions of the Harlem streets come about from the harshness of human relationship, where ideas of otherness reign. As a solution, the black church creates an inclusive category for its own. Lynch argues, though, that the loving communion exists between God and the Christian and not among the Christians themselves. Even the way that the parishioners relate to each other is through a greeting of Praise the Lord (Go Tell 46, 52). In other words, they direct their love upward, not laterally. Thus, the dichotomy between religious identity and the dusty, sinful historiocultural identity speaks to the Harlem understanding that there is no human self-improvement (like New York City and the Public Library seemed to offer).Men cannot learn to love one another more perfectly. They have a history of horrible and mutual mistreatment; it is the human condition to


be competitive and sexual. Therefore, one may choose tense, flawed human relationships or a fulfilling relationship with the divine. The event of being saved represents a rapid identity formation according to the religious identity construct. After a single service spent on the threshing floor of the black church, a member receives his prescribed Christian identity. Elisha describes the effect: I know it looks hard [] But when the Lord saves you He burns out all that old Adam, He gives you a new mind and a new heart, and then you dont find no pleasure in the world, you get all your joy in walking and talking with Jesus every day (Go Tell 49). Being saved is a curative eventa clear-cut threshold from sickness to wellness, from dispersion to inclusion. The unnaturally accelerated change in behavior and perspective, however, does not suggest a healthy identity formation. When Elisha talks about the girls at his high school, sexual desire still hangs in the vacancies of his speech: And boy, some of them is real nice girls, I mean beautiful girlsand when you got so much power that they dont tempt you then you know you saved sure enough. I just look at them and I tell them Jesus saved me one day, and Im going to go all the way with Him (Go Tell 50). For a moment, Elisha loses himself in the worldly beauty and sexual tension of high school. He reveals a weakness in his devotions to the divine that suggest an incomplete if not psychologically unhealthy identity formation within the boundaries of the black church. Due to some gut-felt resistance to the religious identity, John Grimes remains very much on the unsaved side of his Harlem community. Although he works in the church regularly and joins the church communitys every outing, Johns heart was hardened against the Lord (Go Tell 14). Early on, as can be seen in this short passage, Baldwin uses a language from the religious point of view.Gradually he represents Johns side with more sympathy, explaining that there awaited [John], one day, a house like his fathers house, and a church like his fathers and


a job like his fathers, where he would grow old and black with hunger and toil (Go Tell 28). Rather than the inclusive, joyful noise of tambourines and pianos, John thinks of the church as full of darkness and silence, features which do not comfort him. Rather, the church feels cold as judgment, which emphasizes the exclusions of the church over the inclusions (Go Tell 44). Lynch points out what John can only vaguely intimate now: thatonce he is so rapturously saved, the church will place an increased burden on John in the form of greater repression of all secular interests and joys, including sexual development and artistic aspiration, while it will insist on a loveless self-righteous attitude of exclusion toward those who are not deemed saved (Lynch 46). At the end of the novels first section, Baldwin reveals the boys gutfeeling reservations about being saved: He watched them, singing with thembecause otherwise they would force him to singand trying not to hear the words that he forced outward from his throat. And he thought to clap his hands, but he could not; they remained tightly folded in his lap. If he did not sing they would be upon him, but his heart told him that he had no right to sing or to rejoice. Go Tell 56 Though John lacks the strength of identity to know why he resists religion, In the last section of Go Tell, after losing track of Johns thoughts and whereabouts for over one hundred pages, we return to find John on the threshing floor. By narrating Johns experience, Baldwin puts on display the rapid religious identity formation of being saved, which has interesting parallels to the first section of the novel. Most immediately noticeable is Johns fight with the literal dust on the threshing floor: Dust was in his nostrils, sharp and terrible, and the feet of the saints, shaking the floor beneath him, raised small clouds of dust that filmed his mouth. Go Tell 195


he felt himself turning, again and again, across the dusty floor, as though Gods toe had touched him lightly. And the dust made him cough and retch. Go Tell 196 Dust rose again in his nostrils, sharp as the fumes of Hell. And he turned again in the darkness, trying to remember something he had heard, something he had read. Jesus saves. Go Tell 205 These are but three examples from the final section that use the word dust.We recallour earlier interpretation of dust as humanity as opposed to divinity. On the threshing floor, the smell, taste, and choke of the dust issome of the only sensory information provided during Johns threshing floor experience. Thus the dust continuously interrupts his conversion experience, bringing him back to the physical human world while he tries to ascend to a plane of divinity. John is (literally) choking on the symbol of his humanity; his sinfulness;his mortality; his competitiveness; his sexuality. In particular he feels a sickness in his bowels, a tightening in his loin strings, sensations that directly evoke thoughts of mortality and sexuality (Go Tell 196). He struggles to reconcile his own self with the expectation sof the religious identity, while he also feels the strains of those historiocultural sins. The ultimatum demands an answer. For a moment, John loses all sense of identity and slips into an existential crisis, a heart of darkness, on the threshing floor (Go Tell 198). Ah, down! the narration cries, what was he searching here, all alone in darkness? But now he knew, for irony had left him, that he was searching something, hidden in the darkness, that must be found. He would die if it was not found; or, he was dead already, and would never again be joined to the living, if it was not found (Go Tell 202). The nebulous something that John cannot name is his identity. The black church has demanded a religious identity from him, and this threshing floor experience means to expedite the process of identity formation. Suddenly, John has a vision of the City of God: a straight street, a narrow,


narrow way [] There was no one on the street, and John was frightened. The buildings on this street, so near that John could touch them on either side, were narrow, also, rising like spears into the sky (Go Tell 200). In very literal terms, the narrowness of the City of God argues with New York Citys Broadway. Even more striking, John believes that these buildings were not for himnot todayno, nor tomorrow, either! (Go Tell 200). The self-effacing reverence he has for Gods buildings contrasts with the self-improving future that the Public Library offered. So, the new religious identity construct overtly challenges Johns own original ideas. Finally, John must make a choice between the religious and the historiocultural identity constructs. The story of Noahs son Ham comes to John, and illustrates the choice.When Ham witnessed the nakedness of his father (notably a man),he bore the shame of that event by spawning the cursed African race (Go Tell 200). The story places overt shame on homosexuality and the black race. Moreover, it discourages the discoveries of unpleasant truth about ones familyunpleasant truths which would disturb the conservative legacy of the family. The Biblical story of Ham represents all of thehistoriocultural identities that the religious identity rejects, and also all of the historiocultural identities of which John may be part. Looking upon an imagined multitude of the marginalized, John wonders where the acceptance of these cultural identities would take him: John looked down the line of these armies of darkness, army upon army, and his soul whispered: Who are these? Who are they? And wondered: Where shall I go? (Go Tell 204). The description of the marginalized make us especially aware of sexuality and race: their robes were ragged, and stained with the road they had traveled, and stained with unholy blood; the robes of some barely covered their nakedness; and some indeed were naked [] some did not cease to pluck at their flesh [] All struggled to get to the river, in a dreadful hardness of heart: the strong struck down the


weak, the ragged spat on the naked, the naked cursed the blind, the blind crawled over the lame. Go Tell 206 The otherness that lay outside the religious identity frightens John, and so his choice is clear and immediate: John saw the Lordfor a moment only; and the darkness, for a moment only, was filled with a light he could not bear. Then, in a moment, he was set free; his tears sprang as from a fountain; his heart, like a fountain of waters, burst. Then he cried: Oh, blessed Jesus! (Go Tell 207). The lack of transition between the vision of the marginalized and the vision of Jesus indicates a replacementperhaps a desperate replacementof the cultural identity with the religious one. John leaves behind his African ancestry, embodied in Ham, and begins to recite a long list of Biblical characters in the line of Abrahamic succession (Go Tell 208). He has joined a new cultural inheritance. And for the second after he surfaces from the threshing floor, he sees his situation in the church: [Elisha] stood just above John, smiling; and behind him were the saintsPraying Mother Washington, and Sister McCandless, and Sister Price. Behind these, he saw his mother, and his aunt; his father, for the moment was hidden from his view (Go Tell 208). So for the moment, John has put on the religious identity by which he is included, and so long as his father is hidden from his view, the identity seems to belong to him. For now, the black church community believes that Johns identity formation is over; yet John briefly considers the terrors of the night, which were not finished, his heart seemed to say (Go Tell 209). The implication is that John will attempt to work out his salvation within the church and will make good use of the benefits of his new status, but that the restrictions on his identity as an intelligent, talented young man inevitably will prove too strong for him to remain (Lynch 4647).



Identity formation while trying to escape from Americanidentity constructs

Giovannis Room opens onto its protagonist, David, in a retrospective reverie before a large pane of glass, which overlooks a town in southern France. At this deep hour of night, the glass offers him a reflection like a mirror, and he examines himself dryly: My reflection is tall, perhaps rather like an arrow, my blond hair gleams. My face is the face you have seen many times. My ancestors conquered a continent, pushing across death-laden plains until they came to an ocean which faced away from Europe into a darker past (Giovanni 3). The blond hair stands out as a particularly all-American feature, and when David insists on his sameness to all such blond American faces, itmayindicate that David begrudgingly categorizes himself as American. The self-reflective scene rings with parallels to John Grimes recognition in the mirror during Go Tell, as David too fashions an understanding of himself as necessarily a descendent. In this case, David is of white European immigrants to America, but he considers the American colonials to have made no meaningfulprogress on their European ancestors; all their pressing forward still leads them into a darker past. By extension, David considers himself to have made no progress on any of his ancestry, confessing that he has run so far, so hard, across the ocean even, only to find myself brought up short once more before the bulldog in my own backyardthe yard, in the meantime, having grown smaller and the bulldog bigger (Giovanni 6). All of Davidsexpository talk remains cryptic. David, a first-person narrator, knows well that he speaks to an audience but bears no responsibility for making that audience at home. This narrative tone only pushes the reader further into Davids own psychological discomfort. After reading the entire novel, the reader understands his psychological discomfort as stemming from


his situation within the homosexual category, or homosexual identity constructwith all its unacceptable connotations in the American imagination. The juxtaposition of an Americans reflection against the image of a dark town in southern France invites the question of why David would attempts to escape from the bulldog of American categories by traveling a geographical distance. Baldwin has visited the topic of young Americans in Paris time and again, speaking of them at length in his 1954 essay, A Question of Identity. He writes that the young American arrives in Paris expecting liberation from the pressure of identity constructs: [he] wishes to be liked as a person, an implied distinction which makes perfect sense to him. What the American means is that he does not want to be confused with the Marshall Plan, Hollywood the Yankee dollar, television, or Senator McCarthy (Question 95).Though Baldwin takes a sociological pose for this essay, the topic is rather personal. Baldwin expatriated to Paris in 1947 to cheat the destruction of the categorical racial, sexual, and religious expectations pressing upon him (Leeming 56). David of Giovannis Room clarifies, with self-deprecation, that Perhaps, as we say in America, I wanted to find myself. This is an interesting phrase, not current as far as I know in the language of any other people, which certainly does not mean what it says but betrays a nagging suspicion that something has been misplaced. I think now that if I had had any intimation that the self I was going to find would turn out to be only the same self from which I had spent so much time in flight, I would have stayed home. Giovanni 21 Again, this passage brings up the idea of the unaccomplished journeyone which has gotten no practical distance from its starting point. Thus, the reader begins to understand that the physical, geographical distance that David travels to escape the American idea of identity constructs has been of no use. Likewise, Baldwins biographer records what the author himself learned:Europe


did nothing to change his heritage and set of cultural ideas In fact, if being in Europe did nothing else, it helped him to better understand what being a black man meant. He found out just as quickly that Paris was no cure for sexual ambivalence (Leeming 56). I propose that for Baldwin, his heritage was nothing but an inheritance of cultural ideas, from which he could not separate himself. This includes the American obsession with racial, sexual, and religious identity constructs.Like John Grimes, Baldwin was acculturated from youth into this categorical American mindset.Thus Davids flight to France, like Baldwins,will only give him space for examining his self and his self-perceptions, informed by American identity constructs. In the chronological beginning of Davids story in Paris, Baldwin provides evidence that David buys into the identity constructs he learned as a child, which designate the generalized acceptable and unacceptable categories of identity. From the window pane, David remembers back to his arrival in Paris.Early on, he was adamant about distinguishing himself from the negative sexual category of homosexuals. This category is typified by the milieu of gay Parisian men with whom he spends his social time: while this milieu was certainly anxious to claim me, I was intent on proving, to them and to myself, that I was not of their company. I did this by being in their company a great deal and manifesting toward all of them a tolerance which placed me, I believed, above suspicion (Giovanni 22-23). The contradiction between thought and actionfeeling defiantly separate but socially proximalis itself a hint that Davids difference from these men may be only cosmetic.He characterizes gay men as outrageous; the early examples that David offers includea fairy who was kicked out of the Army, a deathlylooking transvestite whom he refuses to give a particular pronoun, and les folles, always dressed in the most improbable combinations, screaming like parrots the details of their latest love affairstheir love affairs always seemed to be hilarious (Giovanni 20, 39, 26). David ridicules


and stereotypes the homosexual characters, presumably out of self-defense, and he does not limit his criticism to peripheral characters. Daviddescribeseven his close friend Jacques as silly, lonely, lusty, hopeless, with his big apartment, his well-meant promises, his whiskey, his marijuana, his orgies (Giovanni 23, 28). To David, the fairy, the transvestite, the cross dressers, and Jacquescleanly represent all the American stereotypes of gay men.In other words, they fit perfectly into the self-evidently unacceptable homosexual category. They verify the very existence of a homosexual identity construct, and so, David assents to the social ridicule of such unsavory characters. Furthermore, by registering his disgust with the reader, David means to distinguish himself from the category altogether. Even spaces do not escape Davids categorical judgments. For example, he identifies Jacques favorite bar, a noisy, crowded, ill-lit sort of tunnel of dubiousor perhaps not dubious at all, of rather too emphaticreputation (Giovanni 26). First, the reader notices Davids concern for the communitys estimationof homosexuality.But moreover, the passages use of the words ill-lit and tunnelbegins to reveal another symbolic feature of the novel: theracial and religious overtones of marginalized, homosexual space. Baldwin often describes the spaces which sexual minorities inhabit as dark or black, revealing a sort of racialization of the homosexuality in the novel. Davids first homosexual encounter as a young boy is full of the terms. He first describes the other boy, Joey, as dark (Giovanni 6), and the morning after their encounter he shudders over Joeys body: [it] suddenly seemed the black opening of a cavern in which I would be enslaved and tortured till madness came, in which I would lose my manhood (Giovanni 9). Davids feelings about his own homosexual inclination reveal a fear of some sort of slavery as well as a loss of manhood, which are respectively the results of being in an unacceptable racial or sexual category.The fear he has


clearly comes from the judgmental estimations and assumptions of the larger American community that subscribes to identity constructs, for he says the cave is black, full of rumor, suggestion, of half-heard, half-forgotten, half-understood stories, full of dirty words. I thought I saw my future in that cavern. I was afraid (Giovanni 9). The words dark and black are used another thirteen times in the novel asdescriptors for anxieties about homosexuality. David often describes homosexual space as tunnel-like, also. Recall the description of Jacques favorite bar, or refer to Davids thoughts as he leaves the bar with Giovanni for the first time: I will see Giovanni so vivid, so winning, all of the light of that gloomy tunnel trapped around his head (Giovanni 43). At the time David says this, the two are hailing for a cab in front of the cafe in the early morning light. There is no physical tunnel in sight. Yet by accepting Giovannis offer to go, David feels himself in a metaphorical space which narrows and closes like a tunnel. Once living in Giovannis room, David continues to describe it as claustrophobic and a narrow space that was full of danger, that almost seemed to roar, like flame (Giovanni 71, 118).In a study of Baldwin, terms that relate to narrowness trace back to John Grimes visions of Hell from the threshing floor, where narrow spaces threatened those who strayed from the religious identity construct. At the end of Davids narrow tunnel is the haloed Giovannia blasphemy that certainly rejects traditional religious imagery.Thus, not only does Baldwin racialize the homosexual spaces of Giovannis Room, but he pressures them with the expectations of the religious identity construct as well. In Giovannis Room, rooms can be said to represent the American identity constructs as David sees them. Rooms are inflexibly defined spaces. One can be either outside of them or within them, and one enters by a defined threshold.Davids black sinner descriptors for the rooms above express certain assumedparameters of identityin other words, identity constructs.


In the context of Giovannis Roomcriticism, it is no small observation toidentify the blackness and narrowness of homosexual rooms astropesfor discussing race and religion. After all, God is never discussed and every character of the novel is white. While most critics only wonder about the blanket whiteness of the novel, some even hail it as Baldwins most compelling effort to achieve either otherness or racelessness.The network of racial, sexual, and religious images here explored, however, point to something more complicated.Trudier HarrisLopez notes the correlation of black with gay, but comes short when she concludes that for David, being homosexual is as terrifying as the idea of becoming black;both are outsiders. Her analysis sticks to racialization as a powerful imaginative feature whereblackimagerysharpensthe readers pity for David. On the contrary, Baldwin would seek a social statement over pity. I propose that the racialization of homosexual spaces reveals something more deeply philosophical and sociological about American identity constructs. All types of minorities, or, those in the unacceptable categories of identity, occupy the same sociological space. That is to say, the identity constructs inform others to marginalize them in the exact same way. Baldwins suggestion is bold: thatracial, sexual, and religious minorities all experience their minority situation in the same way, somehow moving about in a delimited space which is implicitly designated for minorities. To expand the metaphor about rooms as identity constructs, minorities reside in the same social house which is separate from that of majority identities. This recallsGellners earlier theory that those who do not fit into acceptable identity constructs are deemed culturally unemployable. Whether they are black, gay, or irreligious, minorities have the same restricted cultural access to work, family, enfranchisement, respect, and a handful of other cultural employments.When David navigates the disreputable homosexual spaces in Giovannis Room, he navigates the same situation as those in black or irreligious communities.


David, whose phobia is for the identity construct of homosexuality, searches for his own version of John Grimes threshing floor: a single threshold event through which he can absolve his identity conflicts once and for all. Acts of overt heterosexualityand especially heterosexual marriageare Davids threshing floor.Indeed, David counterbalances every early moment of attraction to Giovanni with a desperate desire to find in myself the force to turn and walk out to have gone over to Montparnasse perhaps and picked up a girl. Any girl (Giovanni 42). In particular, he thinks of his estranged fianc: I wanted to get out of this bar, out into the air, perhaps to find Hella, my suddenly so sorely menaced girl (Giovanni 40-41). Notice that David actually seeks Hella only as a solution to his need for air. When she does arrive in Paris, she smelled of the wind and the sea and of space and I felt in her marvelously living body the possibility of legitimate surrender (Giovanni 120). Surrender to her heterosexual appeal, unlike with Giovanni, constitutes somethinglegitimate. Exploring Hellas body is like trying to find my way in a familiar, darkened room in which I fumbled to find the light (Giovanni 121). David maintains these mental associationsamonglight, space, and his relationship toHella throughout the book, as though to combat the blackness and narrowness of the homosexual identity construct. Clearly, David does expect a distinguishable threshold moment: I had hoped that when I saw her something instantaneous, definitive, would have happened in me, something to make me know where I should be and where I was (Giovanni 119). He wishes for a clear moment of heterosexuality to transport him into a room other than Giovannis, furnished with all the acceptable associations of a heterosexual man. In short, he says, I wanted children. I wanted to be inside again, with the light and safety, with my manhood unquestioned (Giovanni 104). Marriage offers just such a threshold, on the other side of which would be his manhood unquestioned.


Different from John Grimes, however, David does not achieve the threshold moment. The failure was foreshadowed by his heterosexual tryst with Sue, whose apartment was as dark and dirty as any he ever encountered in the homosexual world (Giovanni 98-100). David seems to sense that his marriage to Hella, too, would be a false conversion, and he runs from her before they can marry. He escapes to Nice in the south of France to take up with a male sailor for a week-long fling (Giovanni 162). By his escape, Davidmay slough the acceptable but oppressiveheterosexual identity constructbut still his efforts are childish. He seems to wait patiently in Nice for Hella to discover him. Well, she says upon finding him, youre out. And now Im getting out. Its only poor Giovanni whoslost his head (Giovanni 164). Here,Hella may release David from his heterosexual duty, but she also points out that all his indecision and fear of identity constructs has destroyed a life. It was, after all, Davids rejection of real love with Giovanni which led Giovanni to such fatal ends. Giovanni, now on the French death row, exemplifies the minority who finds liberation from identity constructs. He starts out as the Italian, an often-marginalized race in northern Francea fact which reintroduces the idea of Baldwin thinking through race and homosexuality as both in the same minority situation (Giovanni 61). Unsurprisingly, David tells the reader that Giovannis room is very dirty, but the reason for the mess and dirt was not a matter of habit or circumstance or temperament; it was a matter of punishment and grief. I do not know how I knew this, but I knew it at once (Giovanni 86-87). David knows at once because he senses his own situation in that of his lover: Giovanni, prior to finding love, felt that he deserved to associate with the dark and dirty identity construct of the failed heterosexual man.4Yet once in love with David, Giovanni does not see the necessary distinction between inside and outside,

Not only does Giovanni engage in homosexual relationships, but Baldwin also reveals that Giovannis heterosexual marriage in Italy (taking place prior to the beginning of the book) ended in a stillborn child and Giovannis choice to abandon the family (Giovanni ).


acceptable and unacceptable. The world is full of rooms Giovanni once tells David, big rooms, little rooms, round rooms, square ones, rooms high up, rooms low downall kinds of rooms! What kind of room do you think Giovanni should be living in? How long do you think it took me to find the room I have? We can move. Tomorrow!(Giovanni 117). The love which Giovanni finds with David liberates him from the confinement to identity constructs, and therefore liberates him from the need to stay within any given room. He feels that he has flexibility and agency with his own self-definition. In other words, Giovanni has demolished the identity construct for himself. David cannot seem to achieve the same liberation that Giovanni has found, thoughmany characters suggest to him that love must be the liberating force. Jacques, an aforementioned symbol for Davids misunderstanding and stereotyping of homosexuality, tries on several occasions to soften the hard lines of Davids categories which so confine his system of thinking, and thus prevent him from loving. Speaking of Giovanni, he tells David: Love him, said Jacques, with vehemence, love him and let him love you. Do you think anything else under heaven really matters? And how long, at the best, can it last? since you are both men and still have everywhere to go? Only five minutes, I assure you, and most of that, hlas! in the dark. And if you think of them as dirty, then they will be dirtythey will be dirty because you will be giving nothing, you will be despising your flesh and his. But you can make your time together anything but dirty; you can give each other something which will make both of you betterforeverif you will not be ashamed, if you will only not play it safe. Giovanni 57 The reader recalls this urgent and impassioned speech when, much later, Giovanni identifies the problem his one-sided relationship with David: You never have loved anyone, I am sure you never will! You love your purity you are just like a little virgin, you walk around with


your hands in front of you as though you had some precious metal, gold, silver, rubies, maybe diamonds down there between your legs! You want to be clean. You think you came here covered with soap and you think you will go out covered with soapand you do not want to stink. Giovanni 141 Giovannis insights cut to the heart of the matter: that David is not willing to appear publically outside of the acceptable, heterosexual identity construct. Rooms and identity constructs alike have windows, after all.David cannot (or refuses to) overcome the identity constructs that associate dirt, darkness, and narrowness to the world of homosexuality, despite his own experiences.Giovanni may be liberated from all rooms, but David, with these identity constructs so ingrained in his mind, cannot begin to step outside of their architecture. Giovannis own liberation of identity and rejection of identity constructs, however, is not an altogether happy story. His liberation does not function withina construct-driven society. Guillaume, Giovannis employer, covertly suggests that Giovannis character is not of his own determination when he expects Giovanni to comply with acts of lewdness, desperation, and moral poverty. Giovanni refuses, but will not be taken seriously by Guillaume or his friends (Giovanni 155).When Guillaume persists, Giovanni must refuse violently if he is to succeed and he murders the man (Giovanni 156-157). In effect, Giovanni is convicted and put on the French death row for rejecting that homosexual identity construct to which society believes he belongs. At the hands of that very society, Giovanni will become ultimately unemployable which is to say, dead.And worst is that the public considers the crime only to confirm their stereotypes about foreigners and wild young gay men. Their concepts of racial and sexual identity constructs remain intact. What ought to concern the reader, though, is that the story of Giovannis crime and punishment is admittedly being re-imagined by David for his own purposes as he stares out from


his dark window in southern France.He has not actually moved for the entire book, spending the whole of it in reverie. In fact, Giovannis entire story can be said simply to facilitate Davids own process of self-reflection.From the window, Davidimagines what it might be like to be Giovanni at the moment, sitting in his cell in a frightful sweat; he pictures the sequence of events leading up to Giovannis imminent execution. Meanwhile, Davids own hands are clammy, my body is dull and white and dry (Giovanni 168). David is only half narrating Giovannis experience, and half narrating his own. And I look at my body, which is under sentence of death, he goes on.It is lean, hard, and cold, the incarnation of a mystery. And I do not know what moves in this body, what this body is searching. I look at my sex, my troubling sex, and wonder how it can be redeemed, how I can save it from the knife (Giovanni 168).The questions, in the end, are whether David can liberate himself like Giovanni did and whether he too will suffer consequences for it. David resolves to leave the room in the south of France and to venture independently into the world, but it is unclear whether he will succeed. Outside, walking away from the house, I take the blue envelope [containing news of Giovannis conviction] and tear it slowly into many pieces, watching them dance in the wind, watching the wind carry them away (Giovanni 169). But just when David begins to think he too can live liberated from the identity constructs which have condemned Giovanni to death, his symbolic gesture is compromised: as I turn and begin walking toward the waiting people, the wind blows some of the pieces back on me (Giovanni 169). Baldwin hereby suggests that young American David cannot walk away from the way that his society has taught him to categorize and judge. Physical distance, represented by Davids walking away from the house, is not enough separation.



Psychological distance from Americanidentity constructs and sympathetic identification

Baldwins issue is not resolved. If identity constructs doom a man in Go Tell It on the Mountain, and geographical distance from those constructs fails in Giovannis Room, Baldwin must continue to look for solutions to the destructive situation of American categorical identities. His third novel, Another Country, quickly resolves the problems of Baldwin introduces the protagonist for Book One, Rufus Scott, who has allowed the pressure of the black, black-sexual (which is to say violent), and homosexual identity constructs to completely estrange him from his own sense of self.He describes himself by simple, material facts: Rufus was aware of every inch of Rufus. He was flesh: flesh, bone, muscle, fluid, orifices, hair, and skin. His body was controlled by laws he did not understand. Nor did he understand what force within his body had driven him into such a desolate place (Another Country 54). Rufus claims that he cannot decode his own personality, his motives, and thus denies agency with his own identity. The most impenetrable of mysteries, the secret of his self, belongs toothers. Estranged from his interior self, Rufus is vulnerable to identity constructs, which unsympathetically categorize him as black, violently sexual, homosexual, and virtually unemployable in his society.In fact, at this stage of desolation, Rufus makes no attempts to reclaim his interior self from those identity constructs. When heapproaches the window of a jazz bar early in the novel, hewonders if Maybe somebody would see him and recognize him, for they would have known why he was in the streets tonight, why he rode subways all night long, why his stomach growled, why his hair was nappy, his armpits funky, his pants and shoes too thin, and why he did not dare to stop and take a leak(Another Country 3-4). From the window


looking in, Rufus leaves these questions to judgmental spectators at the bar. He cannot (or will not) self-analyze. Unlike John Grimes at the mirror and David at the window, Rufus does not see the opportunity to recognize himself by the reflection he ought to cast. Rather, he must be recognized, or identified, by someone else. In refusing a moment for self-recognition, Rufus may be consigning the duty to others: the keepers of rumor, stereotype, and hastily made identity constructs. Or perhaps he is too afraid to see his ragged self as it appears; the recognition moment would do no good, for it may only support his earlier reduction to material fact. Thus Rufus, socially impoverished, unemployable, and weary, surrenders his identity formation to others. Perhaps most striking is that Rufus not only needs to be recognized by others in order to have identity; he wants it. Sympathetic identification, by which abodyinvites another bodys pain into his own experience, legitimizes the pain. This pain, for Baldwins purposes, is a result of being confined to an identity construct when one does not cleanly fit into the category or its stereotypes. Rufus requires this sympathetic identification from someone else in order to have a healthy semblance of identity outside the constructs of black, black-sexual, and homosexual. He is a member of the failed milieu: Entirely alone, and dying of it, he was part of an unprecedented multitude (Another Country 4). This recalls an occasion from Giovannis Room when Jacques tells David that not many people have ever died of love. But multitudes have perished, and are perishing every hourand in the oddest places!for the lack of it (58). Across both novels, Baldwin sustains the connection between loneliness and death. Giovanni, abandoned in love, presumably dies by the end of Giovannis Room. Undoubtedly, Rufus cannot fall so far from love and survive either, lest he find someone to identify sympathetically with his pain.


Rufuss flashback to his relationship with Leona details his descent into destitution. It is through this relationship that the reader can confidently blame identity constructs for the fall. The trouble with Leona is that Rufus suspects her of indulging what is, essentially, the Mailer system of connecting with blackness. In his now-famous article, The White Negro, Norman Mailer unwittingly displays the predominance of black cultural and sexual stereotypes. Mailer argues that black men seek obligatory pleasures of the body an orgasm more apocalyptic than the one that preceded it, in order to counterbalance their social marginality (341, 347).The security that blacks are denied opens up the possibility of thrill without consequence, which is the sustenance of the black man. Mailers theory builds a black racial identity construct that necessarily entails recklessness and hyper-sexuality. Mailer means to celebrate his sense of the black culture, and to invite white people to identify with blacks by imitating black physical and sexual habits. Whites who pursue this process of identification are considered hipsters. However, Mailers system of imitation is a far cry from sympathetic identification. Mailers article actually creates identity constructs through which normal white people can experience the black situation. Baldwin himself railed against Mailers nave racial and sexual stereotyping in his article, The Black Boy Looks at the White Boy, published in Esquire just a year before he released Another Country. Arguably, Rufus projects the trappings of Mailer-like identity constructs onto Leona. The racial tension begins early. When Rufus first meets his Southern white girl, both he and his friends refer to her repeatedly as Little Eva, the Southern child in Uncle Toms Cabin. The child in Beecher Stowesfamous novel has a strong but usually piteous relationship with her fathers slave, Tom. Baldwin, along with the black community in Another Country, reimagines the classic story if Tom and Evas relationship had been expressed sexually. He shows Leona


(the Eva figure) having pity on Rufus (the Tom figure), and loving him with patronizing affection. What begins as a teasing nickname for Leona turns into a dangerous insecurity for Rufus. He cannot bear the societal and historical implications of his interracial relationship, and in order to maintain his manhood, he beats and rapes Leona regularly. This reaction hardly solves the problem of their relationship, for it only reinforces stereotypes of the black identity construct as inclusive of violent hyper-sexuality. Rufus tells Vivaldo that Leona loves the colored folks so much sometimes I just cant stand it. You know all that chick knows about me? The only thing she knows? He put his hand on his sex, brutally, as though he would tear it out. Thats all (Another Country68). His language clearly accuses the white woman of invoking black cultural and sexual stereotypesthose misunderstood by Mailer. Rufus believes that Leona can only understand him as belonging to the black identity construct, with all its connotations of pity and brutal sexuality. He believes he is not understood or sympathized with on his own terms. It remains unclear, though, whether Leona really does so strictly categorize Rufus. The few times she speaks in the novel seem to reveal a genuine compassion: [Black people] didnt never worry me none. Peoples just people as far as Im concerned (Another Country 13). Still Rufus indicts her for pitying those who are black and for sexually exploiting other black men, despite her insistence: Hes always beating me, for nothing, for nothing! He says Im sleeping with other colored boys behind his back and its not true, God knows its not true! Rufus knows it isnt true, Vivaldo said. He looked over at Rufus, who said nothing (Another Country 55).Indeed, Rufus responds soberly, as though signaling that he knows the truth of her constancy.Rather, the sexual violence that Rufus shows toward Leona is fed by a wellspring of internalized pain and suffering (Gordon 83). He is projecting the pressure of societys identity constructs onto his interracial relationship with her. Presumably, this is the


cause of his loss of agency about his identity, which delivers him to the destitution at the jazz bar window. Rufus sees all people, even those he loves, as attackers and controllers of his identity formation. The trap of identity constructs, which Rufus expresses so violently, ultimately sends Leona to a mental institution. And in the end, it kills Rufus himself: he leaps off the Brooklyn Bridge at the end of Book One (Another Country 88). Rufuss suicide exposes a failure in his friendships. Sympathetic identification did not occur, even in the time that Rufus took to return to his friends and seek food, shelter, and companionship. Because he could not find relief from the overwhelming pressure of identity constructsparticularly those expressed in his relationship with LeonaRufus met his demise. I wonder if there was anythingweanyonecould have done, Cass Silenski ruefully (Another Country ##). For the remainder of the novel, Rufuss friends attempt to create a safer, more sympathetic social environment that might prevent the downfall of a friend in the future. In other words, they create psychological distance from American identity constructs which allows more fluid identities and invites better sympathetic identification. Rufuss friends mean to achieve a space for dialectic which will foster healthy identity formation on ones own terms, with social support. It is noteworthy that their project occurs in the geographical space of Greenwich Villagea site known for its bohemian-style acceptance of unusual or fluid identities. Though Baldwins cast involves sixmajor characters who comprise various racial, sexual, religious, and even marital identity constructs, this analysis will confine itself to a study of Daniel Vivaldo Moore: the seeming-saint who, as a white heterosexual, inhabits the opposite identity constructs from his friend Rufus. For Books Two and Three of Another Country, Vivaldo stumbles through the process of sympathetic identification. For much of the book he


fails to generate that sympathetic identification with others, both because of insincere strategy and because his efforts originally aim to identify with the deceased Rufus. By using other characters, like Ida Scott and Eric Jones, Vivaldo tries unsuccessfully to inhabit Rufuss blackness and homosexuality. Rufuss sister, Ida. she carried her head high, as though it had borne, but only yesterday, the weight of an African water jar (Another Country 143). he felt that he was traveling up a savage, jungle river, looking for the source which remained hidden just beyond the black. Then, for a moment, they seemed to be breaking through he was determined to bring her over the edge and into his possession her body was so nearly his (Another Country 177). Fetishizing. intercourse becomes an act of mapping the topographical contours of Idas body in a bid to discover her source (Gordon 86). Getting inside Idas body. Rufuss sometime-lover, Eric. As Vivaldo dreams of Rufus, inviting him to commit suicide, and then jumping without him (Another Country 382). Some aspect of mutuality still sorely missing. Allows the sexual encounter as though briefly to reproduce Rufuss relationship with Eric. Rufus had certainly thrashed and throbbed, feeling himself mount higher, as Vivaldo thrashed and throbbed and mounted now. Rufus. Rufus. Had it been like this for him? And he wanted to ask Eric, What was it like for Rufus? (Another Country 386). Eric facilitates some kind of mutual experience between Vivaldo and Rufus. Mailers The White Negro. Even now he knew he was condemned to women (Another Country 385). Sweetheart, suffering doesnt have a color. Does it? (Another Country 417). His arms trembled with his revulsion, and every act of the body seemed unimaginably vile. And yet, at the same time, as he stood helpless and stupid in the kitchen his heart began to beat with a newer, stonier anguish, which destroyed the distance called pity and placed him, very neatly, in her


body, beside that table, on the dirty floor (Another Country 426). It is about physical reality, but not a inhabiting of space, an inhabiting of suffering and pain due to identity constructs He went to her, resigned and tender and helpless, her sobs seeming to make his belly sore (Another Country 426). Sympathetic identification as the key to creating an environment for positive identity formation. They hold each other (Another Country 431). He thought to himself that he had at last got what he wanted, the truth out of Ida, or the true Ida; and he did not know how he was going to live with it (Another Country 430).

He thought to himself that he had at last got what he wanted, the truth out of Ida, or the true Ida; and he did not know how he was going to live with it (Another Country 430).


He does not cleanly belong to either of these American categories; Rufus expresses his own relationship with African royalty more so than with black slaves, and he sleeps with both men and women. He despises those in the acceptable categories, like white heterosexuals, though his best friend Vivaldo is just that.

THE MILIEU TRYING TO FIND THEMSELVES Epigraph Entirely alone, and dying of it, he was part of an unprecedented multitude (Another Country 4). this world and its power to hate and destroy (Another Country 27).

DESTRUCTIVE OPENING: NO RECOGNITION Estrangement from his own interior self Rufus was aware of every inch of Rufus. He was flesh, bone, muscle, fluid, orifices, hair and skin. His body was controlled by laws he did not understand. Nor did he understand what force within this body had driven him to such a desolate place. The most impenetrable of myseteries moved in this darkness for less than a second, hinting of reconciliation (Baldwin). Physical makeup, bewilderment, no one else can answer either. Present but alienated (Gordon 84). LITTLE EVA FROM UNCLE TOMS CABIN, LEANING ON SEXUAL STEREOTYPES Leona reminds him of the south and of hedonistic excess the boys on the stoops, the girls behind the stairs and on the roofs the juke-box, the teasing, the dancing, the hard-on, the gang fights, the gang bangs, his first set of drumsbought him by his fatherhis first taste of marijuana, his first snort of horse (Baldwin).


SEXUAL VIOLENCE Leona loves the colored folks so much, said Rufus, sometimes I just cant stand it. You know all that chick knows about me? The only thing she knows? He put his hand on his sex, brutally, as though he would tear it out. Thats all (Baldwin). Sexual violence he shows toward her is from a wellspring of internalized pain and suffering (Gordon 83). RUFUSS SUICIDE, CAUSES No one listens to each other, so separated by categories of our own nations design This all began because I said that you people Listen to yourself. You people! didnt know anything about Rufus Because were white. No. Because he was black. Oh. I give up. (Baldwin) Rufus causes people to reevaluate VIVALDO AS THE IDENTITY SAINT believe me, I know, I knowa lot of things hurt you that I cant really understand. A lot of things hurt me that I cant really understand (Baldwin). Understands the idea of identifying with a person rather than a category. STUMBLES THROUGH THE INHABITING OF ANOTHERS BODY TRYING TO BE BLACK TRYING TO BE GAY Getting inside Idas body


Reproducing Rufuss relationship with Eric, Eric facilitates some kind of mutual experience between Vivaldo and Rufus Norman Mailers The White Negro Even now he knew he was condemned to women (Baldwin). RETURNS TO IDA Vivaldo attempts to see what she saw, to feel something of what she felt Sympathetic identification as the key to creating an environment for positive identity formation Marginalize no one It is about physical reality, but not a inhabiting of space, an inhabiting of suffering and pain due to identity constructs Having listened to Ida, Vivaldos heart began to beat with a newer, stonier anguish, which destroyed the distance called pity and placed him, very nearly, in her body, beside that table, on the dirty floor. Vivaldo went to her, resigned and tender and helpless, her sobs seeming to make his belly sore (Baldwin).

Baldwins hipster receives the experiences of another not by inhabiting anothers body, but rather by allowing other bodies, and the pain those other bodies have endured, to enter into his own (Gordon 80).

pain and suffering as sites for sympathetic connection (Gordon 85).


Works Cited Baldwin, James. Another Country. New York, NY: Vintage Books of Random House, 1993. Baldwin, James. The Black Boy Looks at the White Boy. The Library of America: James Baldwin: Collected Essays. New York, NY: Penguin Putnam, Inc., 1998.269-289. Baldwin, James. Everybodys Protest Novel. The Library of America: James Baldwin: Collected Essays. New York, NY: Penguin Putnam, Inc., 1998.11-18. Baldwin, James. Giovannis Room. New York, NY: Dell Publishing of Random House, 2000. Baldwin, James. Go Tell It on the Mountain. New York, NY: Dell Publishing of Random House, 2000. Baldwin, James. A Question of Identity.The Library of America: James Baldwin: Collected Essays. New York, NY: Penguin Putnam, Inc., 1998.91-100. Crawford, Margo. The Reclamation of the Homoerotic as Spiritual in Go Tell It on the Mountain.James Baldwins Go Tell It on the Mountain: Historical and Critical Essays. New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing Inc., 2006. 75-86. Drowne, Kathleen. An Irrevocable Condition: Constructions of Home and the Writing of Place in Giovannis Room. Re-Viewing James Baldwin: Things Not Seen. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2000. 72-87. Fabre, Michael. James Baldwin in Paris: Hardship and Romance. James Baldwin: His Place in American Literary History and His Reception in Europe. Frankfurt, Germany: Peter Lang Press, 1991. 45-46. Gellner, Ernest. Culture, Identity, and Politics. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1987. Gordon, Brandon. Physical Sympathy: Hip and Sentimentalism in James Baldwins Another Country. Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. 57, Ed. 1.2011 Spring.75-95. Harris-Lopez, Trudier.Slanting the Truth: Homosexuality, Manhood, and Race in James Baldwins Giovannis Room.South of Tradition: Essays on African American Literature. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2002.


Leeming, David.James Baldwin: A Biography. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company, 1994. Lynch, Michael.Staying out of the Temple: Baldwin, the African American Church, and The Amen Corner.Re-Viewing James Baldwin: Things Not Seen. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2000. 33-71. Mailer, Norman. The White Negro.Advertisements for Myself. Cambridge, England: Harvard University Press, 1992. 337-358. Reddinger, Amy. Just Enough for the City: Limitations of Space in Baldwins Another Country.