Friday, March 31, 2017

James Baldwin's Go Tell It on the Mountain

Videogamers, if you need to take a break, this is a book to read!

It's been at least five years since I  reread Go Tell it on the Mountain, so I'm fuzzy on some of the specifics, but I can say this is my favorite novel, the greatest novel I've read.  Unfortunately, since I'm not a brilliant critic nor primarily a literary person, I really don't think I can do this novel justice.

Baldwin's writing is (intentionally) of a biblical cast; the book is evocative of psalms and proverbs.  It reads like gospel truth, unsurprisingly paralleling the strong religious themes of the novel.

The characterization and emotions the book evokes are so accurate and compelling, that every time the semi-autobiographical narrator, John, describes his father, Gabriel, I feel myself being suffocated by his oppressive narcissism, and intimidated by his high social status in the community.  Asthma sufferers, have your Albuterol ready as you read.

James Baldwin ingeniously incorporates, or at least intuitively understands,  the Bowen/Minuchin structural family theory, that suggests that counterproductive coping mechanisms often have their roots in the relationship of parents with their children.

There is a powerful scene where John realizes that Gabriel is not the perfect, superior creature he had thought (though I'm not sure I remember or fully understood what triggered this; was it because he found out his father had adulterous affairs?).

Armed with this knowledge, his next encounter changes their relational standing.  Instead of being intimidated and cowed, the narrator stands proud against him, to the point where Gabriel is taken aback, and their relationship shifts to a more appropriate one.  John is then able to move past feeling overshadowed and oppressed, and self-actualize.

The psychology of the characters, and Baldwin's understanding of family dynamics and relationships, is impressive, to say the least, and his prose is masterful.

If I can stop playing video games, I will definitely reread this brilliant novel and write a more comprehensive analysis.

The How of Happiness Review


  1. I read it when it came out, and can recall only the power, the cosmic passion, of Baldwin's language. That was long ago. It's time to revisit. Thanks for the reminder, Alice!

    1. that's really cool! Do you have the first edition? I was in awe reading it, b/c it was like reading poetry, how he compresses so many feelings, imagery and ideas in such few words. I need to read it again myself, and hope to write a more in depth analysis, exploring more of the relationship dynamics. Thanks so much Mathew!


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