During this literary period, notable African American writers contributed o this diverse array Of literature. African American writers of this period “were often engaged in bitter disagreement over the form and functions of African American expression, over the obligations of black writers to their publications, and even over how such publics were to be identified. ” (94) By tackling issues that dealt with identity, sexuality, social tensions, internal confessions, gender and gender roles, etc. He writers of this period sought to give a certain social literary reality to this broad style of writing. Modernism depicts a strong internal break with tradition; style or event that aims to break with classical and traditional forms and attach modern ides. James Baldwin, a notable contributor to the realism, naturalism, and modernism era, pulled from personal experiences to formulate writings. “Line king the most intimate areas of his own experience with the broadest questions of national and global density. (390) With early life events such as his struggles with poverty, religious indoctrination, the estrangement from his step father, and identifying his sexuality, Baldwin managed to connect modern topics by showing how they connect with the traditional ideals adopted by society. In his literature he attempts to show, through his characters, how individuals adapt to the changing world as well as the changing times. Baldwin novel Giovanni Room, displays the literary subject of modernism through themes such as sexuality and sexual identity.
Baldwin uses an array of characters in this novel to express how sexuality and sexual identity is neither homosexual nor heterosexual. It is neither black nor white. Baldwin purposely chooses not to disclose the race of the characters in this novel, in order to find a universal story. Romance and love can be experienced regardless of what someone identifies themselves as. The traditional ideals that some characters, especially the protagonist David, struggles with throughout the novel, show how societal labels effect certain ideas as either being considered “right” or “wrong’.
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The main conflict of Giovanni Room concerns Davit’s sexual identity. Defining his sexuality or accepting that he likes men as well as women plagues the entire story. David wants to love women, because that is what society and family believes is morally correct. David is sexually attracted to men. By accepting this fact, in his mind, would devalue his masculinity as well as shame the values of his family and society. There are many reasons that contribute to Davit’s internal conflict with his sexuality. The largest reason can be found in Davit’s relationship with his father.
In the novel, David has many flashbacks of his life. His mother passes when David is about five years old. Davit’s father raises him and his Aunt Ellen lives with them as well. David describes his father as a calm man, very slow to anger. An adolescent memory that David remembers greatly about his father are the cocktail parties that his father throws at their house. He says that his father is very sociable then, pouring drinks and flirting with women. One eight, Davit’s father and his Aunt Ellen argue because his father returns home drunk and being out with women once again.
His Aunt Ellen states that David is growing up and his father should be more careful about the activities he involves himself in around David. David, until this point, thinks nothing of his father and his relationships with other Women. After this point, he begins to look at his father differently and the women he encounters. Davit’s father responds to Ellen during the argument, that all he wants is for David to grow up and be a man. This is one of the first instances where we see that being tit a woman or many women equates as the qualifier of being a man.
This expression of sexuality that Davit’s father states lead to David to battle with his own sexuality. In the beginning chapter of the novel, David befriends a guy by the name of Joey. The have a sleep over at Joey’s house and begin to horse play and wrestle as boys do. The two go to bed, but are awaken by Joey saying that he has been bitten by a bed bug. David teases him and they play fight which leads the two to kiss and make love. David awakes in the morning admiring Joey’s body. Suddenly after realizing how much smaller Joeys body compares o his and realizing that Joey is a boy, his feelings then change.
David feeling ashamed thinks of what his own father would think as well as Joey’s parents if the two were caught in bed together. He leaves and from that day on when he see’s Joey he is cruel to him, picking on him to please his new group of friends as well as proving to himself in a way that he is not homosexual. David does not seem to be at peace with his sexuality. Even when in a relationship with his fiance Bella, she eventually tells him that he seems withdrawn especially while the two are being intimate with each other.
At one mint in the novel, David meets Giovanni and he tells Giovanni that he has never been with a man. David knowing that he has told a lie says to himself that, ‘People are too various to be treated so lightly. Am too various to be trusted (5) Not only is David in denial about his sexuality, he does not even trust himself with someone’s heart. There are times in the novel that after David has sex with men (Giovanni and Joey) he begins to think about his father as well as the other party’s family. Imagining what they will think of two men being intimate with each other.
This is another continuation of how societal views and family morals override David being at peace with his own sexuality. While in Paris, David involves himself with a community of homosexual men in which he considers his friends. These men take him out to bars as well as sometimes helping him financially. Through this group of friends he eventually meets his lover Giovanni. While at a bar one night, Davit’s friend Jacques notices how comfortable Giovanni and David are together. He pulls David to the side and Jacques tells David that he looks like something in a vision.
He tells him that this is an important day for him. ‘”You re lucky that what is happening to you now is happening now and not when you are forty, or something like that, when there would be no hope for you and you would simply be destroyed” (66). David pretends he doesn’t know what is going on and Jacques presses the point by asking if he will write a letter to Hell to tell her about Giovanni. David tells Jacques that he finds Jacques life despicable and Jacques responds that he could say the same of Davit’s life. In that David is not really being honest with whom he truly is inside and that is despicable itself.
David asks if there is not some better way or him than to enjoy himself with young boys in the dark. Jacques tells him not to pretend that he too has not been with men in the dark. Jacques tells David that Giovanni affection for him should make him happy. Instead, he is ashamed. David says that he doesn’t understand Giovanni kind of friendship, Jacques tells David, “Love him. Love him and let him love you. Do you think anything else under heaven really matters? ” (98). Throughout the text Baldwin displays instances in which Davit’s desires and sexuality are shaped not by him, but by society.
Davit’s character battles with what his ether will think of him, what society will see him as, and not by what his mind and body desire. Modernism explores ideals such as homosexuality and rids them of the traditional views that society sets to normalize.