Go Tell It on the Mountain Study Guide

Go Tell It on the Mountain

Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin

Go Tell It on the Mountain is a 1953 novel by James Baldwin about the Christian Church and its role in African-American culture and everyday life. The novel, which is semi-autobiographical, tells the story of John Grimes, a troubled young man who questions his faith and the teachings of the church. The book treats Christianity both as a pivot-point for the African-American community as well as a repressive force. The book's style and literary references are often biblical and the work subtly examines racism and homosexuality as well.

Go Tell It on the Mountain Themes

  • Autobiography : James Baldwin grew up in Harlem and never knew his biological father. His Baptist minister stepfather was“Brooding, silent, tyrannical ... and physically abusive, he was also a storefront preacher of morbid intensity.”

Also like John, Baldwin underwent a religious awakening at the age of 14, when Baldwin became a Pentecostal preacher. His later novels expressed his growing disillusionment with church life, and they also feature homosexual and bisexual themes. His novel Giovanni's Room, serves as an example of these themes and is taken as an indicator of Baldwin's sexuality.

There are some hints of beautiful homosexual themes in Go Tell It On The Mountain ; as for example John's fascination and attraction for Elisha.

Societal factors: The consequences affecting the individual because of societal norms. John Grimes is a confused adolescent boy, but most of his confusion is driven from questioning himself. These questions include his sexuality and the reasons that he is, "at war," with his father. Upon examination of the reasons for which he questions himself, it is determined that norms placed on him by society and more importantly the church, which is embodied by his father, deem his actions wrong. John cannot look at anything without having it painted in the light of the church, therefore, he is committing sin because of his own nature, which is the cause of his confusion. With this auto-biographical novel, Baldwin is particularly invested in the reason why he split from the ideals of the church after being raised so rigidly within its confines. The very first page, "Part One: The Seventh Day, And the Spirit and the Bride say, Come..." is included to highlight his view of religion and the conflicts brought about the very framework of Christianity. It is not constrictive, but inclusive—"let him that is athirst, come"—there is no restriction with God, and yet, he was raised in a church (highlighted by Elisha and his girlfriend in the novel) where the simple act of temptation by a lover is damnable to hell.

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