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Giovanni’s Room Setting against A Crime

Giovanni’s Room Setting against A Crime

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A scholarly analysis of James Baldwin’s work “Giovanni’s Room” reveals that the book seems to be set against a crime with the focus of it all being murder. However, there are many other instances of crime in the book as one does not have to die for there to be a crime. In 1950s when Baldwin produced his work, a lot had not been done on individual rights and especially those of minority groups. At that time, the society was against homosexuality and actually it was a crime on the face of the member of the society. “I was ashamed, in its sweet disorder, testified to vileness. I wondered what Joey’s mother would say when she saw the sheets (9).” This was the first time that David encounters a gay intimacy with Joey and feels guilty because he knew deep inside him that it was wrong and his fear of Joey’s mother noting the sheets shows his fear that the society might get to know they are homosexual. It is also portrayed by how David does not want Hella and his father to know that something is going on between him and Giovanni.

James Baldwin foreshadows some of the things that would later become of great concern in the society for instance the civil rights of homosexuality, racism and child neglect as crimes. At the time when Baldwin publishes his work, struggle for civil rights had not emerged and as we notes from his work, death was considered as the greatest crime. When Guillaume is found strangled, a number of gay bars are closed and the police conducts a thorough search for men with peculiar demeanors in the society. “Both street-boys and the society men are frightened of this outburst of the public morality (Chapter 5, 2).” we can note that, a crime such as murder is taken with all the seriousness it deserves in this society. Nonetheless, this society assumes some civil rights for instance sexual orientation, racism, freedom of expression and children’s rights.

In today’s world, these are the issues that have raised controversial debates with the rise of civil rights activists since 1969. Baldwin had foreshadowed this in his work and it acts as a good opportunity of discussing them in depth. The extension that has been brought by the civil rights clearly point out that, in Giovanni’s room there is more than one criminals and there are a variety of crimes being committed although the society is portrayed to be oblivious of this. There are also many victims who suffer from these crimes.

The crime of death appears so obvious in this book. It is also the only crime that seems to take hold of everyone’s attention in this society. Giovanni is the perpetrator of Guillaume’s murder and goes hiding. The situation exacerbates and tension takes control of the village. When Giovanni is finally on the hand of authorities David seems to be always uneasy about the situation because he knew how it would end. “I can’t help feeling that I placed him in the shadow of the knife, (160).” David even turns away his attention from Hella his girlfriend owing to the fear of death sentence for Giovanni. He is definitely aware that the penalty for such a crime in this society is execution and he is anxious that he will lose his lover, Giovanni. “And the nightmare of this house began (chapter 5, 50)” an indication of David’s apprehension of Giovanni’s trial.

Besides the hidden violence and dangerous liaisons that Paris experienced in 1950s and which are focused in Baldwin’s work, there are other crimes in this book if focused into today’s light. David’s father had neglected his son David, and he had taken long before taking care of his son’s financial needs. For whatever reasons as claimed to be a tactic of getting David back home, this is violations of children’s rights. David is the victim of his father’s actions as his mother had died a long time ago, when he was just five years old. We also note that the society had denied most of the character in the book, the freedom of speech. David kept his relationship with Giovanni a secret as he would never have wanted his father to find out. “Sometimes, strange shapes loomed against it [the window]. At such moments, Giovanni... would stiffen like a hunting dog and remain perfectly silent until whatever seemed to threaten our safety had moved away (86).” He is also afraid in case Joey’s mother finds out what had happened between him and Joey.

David is said to be in financial difficulties and his situation has made him not only to become a pest to others but also to commit crime in Paris. He had rent a house of which he had failed to pay for several months. Indeed, he was not willing to pay, as he was surely broke. The landlord would have taken a legal action for David’s stay in the house and having his debt accumulate so much that he was unable to pay. The Landlord however opted to have David kicked out of the apartment and the only alternative that David could find was to rely on his gay friend Jacques. When David engages in a gay relationship with Giovanni, they experiences financial problems but this time Jacques refuses to assists Giovanni. This probably led Giovanni had to committing the crime he committed that ultimately led to his execution. It had been suspected that Giovanni had fled to Argentina but when they finally finds him, hiding in a barge on the Seine he still had the money he had taken from Guillaume because he was unable to spend it (Chapter 5, 30). Besides murder, Giovanni had committed a crime of robbery.

Although the work of James Baldwin seem to be set against a crime of murder, a retrospective look into the book and reveals that there are more crimes that are committed and different characters falls victims of this. Denial of freedom of speech, child neglect, racism, robbery and murder are the main crimes with the major character David and Giovanni being the victims.

Reference

Baldwin, J. (2013). Giovanni’s Room. Vintage International. New York: Vintage, ISBN-13: 978-0345806567


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