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Giovanni's Room

Giovanni's Room


James Baldwin

Giovanni's Room Part 1, Chapter 3 Summary

  • Note to the reader: We're again in David's flashback.
  • David, Giovanni, Jacques, and Guillaume leave the bar at five in the morning. As Guillaume locks up, David admires the spire of the church at St. Germain des Pres and thinks of Hella.
  • The four of them pile into a taxi and head to Les Halles for breakfast.
  • As they scrunch together, Jacques and Guillaume make lewd comments. David is irritated, but Giovanni leans back calmly. His behavior seems to indicate that there is no reason to be upset since they will soon be rid of the old men.
  • As they go over a bridge, Giovanni says, "Look. This old whore, Paris, as she turns in bed, is very moving" (1.3.3).
  • David looks out the window at the barges tied up on the banks of the Seine and the sun coming up over the river. Lonely men walk down along the banks.
  • Giovanni takes David's hand, and he asks if David has ever slept under a bridge.
  • Out of a sort of competition with Giovanni, David replies that he has not yet, but that his hotel keeper threatened to kick him out that very morning.
  • David pulls his hand away. He covers up his discomfort by searching for a cigarette, which Jacques lights for him.
  • Jacques asks where Giovanni lives. He tells him he lives by Nation, and Guillaume chips in that it is a dreadful part of town full of bourgeoisie and their pig-like children.
  • Jacques suggests that perhaps Guillaume missed the children in their prime. He asks Giovanni if he lives in a hotel.
  • Giovanni, slightly embarrassed, replies that he lives in maid's quarters. He adds that he doesn't know what happened to the maid.
  • Jacques says that he would like to see Giovanni's room, and Giovanni, both to be polite and to brush away the flirtation, says that he will have a party for him some day.
  • While Guillaume eyes Giovanni, David makes a resolution (he has been making resolutions all night). The resolution is that as soon as he and Giovanni are alone, he will explain the misunderstanding. David thinks Giovanni has misread everything, but then he wonders if perhaps he is the one who is confused.
  • The cab arrives in Les Halles, whose streets are strewn with crates of food waiting for trucks to come and pick them up.
  • The streets are thronging with people and, when a woman makes an obscene gesture at the cab, Giovanni and the driver shout at her. The two of them become friendly and banter about the bad hygiene and silly habits of the French. Jacques and Guillaume scour the streets for young males, and David is left to just observe the sidewalks and the cafés they pass.
  • The city seems strange to him, but to Giovanni it is completely natural.
  • Giovanni picks a place for them to go. Jacques protests that he has another place in mind, but with contempt, Giovanni says that Jacques's place is just an expensive tourist trap.
  • Giovanni tells David that he used to work in Les Halles, and he looks out on the streets "with a sadness which was not less real for being a little theatrical and self-mocking" (1.3.22).
  • Guillaume reminds Giovanni who it was that rescued him. Giovanni asks Guillaume if he is pleased with his work, and is still happy to have found him. Guillaume says that he is.
  • The taxi stops.
  • David reaches for his wallet to pay, but Giovanni grabs his hand, indicating that the least the two old men can do is cover the fare.
  • Seeing the dingy cafe, Guillaume says that they will all be poisoned.
  • Giovanni assures them that he is not trying to poison anyone. If he did, he would be out of a job, and as he says, "and I have only just found out that I want to live" (1.3.31).
  • Guillaume and Giovanni exchange a bizarre glance, but then Jacques ushers all of them inside.
  • David looks around the restaurant to see some young men, an ugly group of teenagers playing pinball, an impeccably dressed waiter, and an obese cook in the back.
  • Behind the register is "one of those absolutely inimitable and indomitable ladies, produced only in the city of Paris." David thinks that such women "must come into the world hungry for banknotes, and squinting helplessly, unable to focus their eyes until they came to rest on a cash-register" (1.3.35).
  • The woman hugs Giovanni. It is clear that most of the people in the bar know and like him.
  • The woman teases Giovanni for not coming around as often anymore and compliments him on his "rich friends."
  • Giovanni says that his life has become all work and no play, and the woman laughs. At the suggestion of another man at the bar, the old woman goes to get them drinks.
  • David thinks that everyone at the bar seems proud of Giovanni.
  • Giovanni introduces everyone, and the woman at the bar, Madame Clothilde, seems particularly taken with David.
  • Guillaume suggests that they sit down, but Giovanni protests that they should have a drink at the bar with Mme. Clothilde. The result is that Guillaume has to buy her champagne.
  • The other young men at the bar are sizing up Guillaume and Jacques. It is clear that they prefer Giovanni and David, but because the two appear to be "together," the only way the men can communicate their affection is by relieving them of the old men.
  • Giovanni goes to chat with some of the boys at the bar. Guillaume and Mme. Clothilde have a pretty standard conversation about business and politics, and Jacques decides to tease David.
  • Jacques tells David that he looks like something in a vision. He tells him that this is an important day for him.
  • Jacques says, "You are 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" (1.3.66).
  • David tries to act like he doesn't know what is going on, but Jacques presses the point by asking if he will write a letter to Hella to tell her about Giovanni.
  • Jacques looks upset. He asks if David will treat Giovanni as badly as he has treated Jacques.
  • David says he doesn't know what Jacques is talking about. Jacques says, "You have been very unfair to me. You have been very dishonest" (1.3.76). Jacques says at least he could have despised him less.
  • David admits that he did find Jacques's life despicable, but Jacques retorts that he could say the same of David's life. He reminds him that he was once younger than David, and says, "There are so many ways of being despicable it quite make's one's head spin. But the way to be really despicable is to be contemptuous of other people's pain" (1.3.80).
  • David asks if there isn't some better way for him than to enjoy himself with young boys in the dark. Jacques tells him not to pretend that he too hasn't been with men in the dark.
  • After a pause, Jacques says that the reason David finds his life shameful is because he thinks that Jacques's encounters are shameful. The key, he says, is to ask why they are.
  • Jacques says the reason they are shameful is "Because there is no affection in them, and no joy. It's like putting an electric plug in a dead socket. Touch, but no contact. All touch, but no contact and no light" (1.3.87).
  • When David asks Jacques why this is so, he says, "That you must ask yourself, and perhaps one day this morning will not be ashes in your mouth" (1.3.89).
  • David looks over at Giovanni, and Jacques tells him that Giovanni's affection for him should make him happy. Instead, he is ashamed.
  • David says that he doesn't understand Giovanni's kind of friendship, and Jacques kids him.
  • Once he gets David to grin, he says vehemently, "Love him. Love him and let him love you. Do you think anything else under heaven really matters?" (1.3.98).
  • Jacques tells him not to think of it as dirty, that if they love each other it doesn't have to be dirty. He finishes his cognac and signals Mme. Clothilde.
  • When Mme. Clothilde comes to serve Jacques, she asks if David will be having another drink. He hesitates, and she encourages him to have another.
  • Guillaume offers a redheaded boy named Pierre a cognac, which Mme. Clothilde pours while Guillaume goes down the bar to talk to him.
  • As Mme. Clothilde goes to watch the sun rise and finish her champagne, David smiles sardonically and says that he is observing things his father never told him.
  • Jacques says, "Somebody, your father or mine, should have told us that not many people have ever died of love. But multitudes have perished, and are perishing every hour – and in the oddest places! – for the lack of it" (1.3.105).
  • As Giovanni comes back to talk with David, Jacques turns and begins talking to the boy next to him.
  • Giovanni apologizes for leaving for so long, and David says that he looks like an excited boy on Christmas morning.
  • Giovanni is delighted at the description, but says that he is always disappointed on Christmas morning.
  • David tries to clarify and says that he means early on Christmas before the presents are open, but it doesn't matter and they are both laughing anyway.
  • Giovanni proposes that they go and drink white wine and eat oysters together in the dining room. The two of them observe Guillaume and Jacques, talking happily with their boys.
  • In the dining room, Giovanni says that they will eat quickly and go. After all, he has to work that night.
  • David asks if Giovanni met Guillaume in this café. He says, laughing, that he actually met him in a theatre. He had gone to see a Western with Gary Cooper.
  • After the movie ended, Guillaume had followed Giovanni into the lobby. He gave him a long complicated story about how he had lost his scarf on Giovanni's seat, and asked him to go look for it. Giovanni knew it was all just an excuse, but looked anyway.
  • When he didn't find it, Guillaume acted astonished, but proposed that they have a drink together. Giovanni went along with it and, at drinks, Guillaume asked to have dinner with him a few days later.
  • Giovanni says that he didn't intend to go but, when the night of the dinner came, he was hungry.
  • David observes him as he speaks, and "saw in his face again something which I have fleetingly seen there during these hours: under his beauty and his bravado, terror, and a terrible desire to please; dreadfully moving, and it made me want, in anguish, to reach out and comfort him" (1.3.123).
  • The oysters arrive and the two of them begin to eat.
  • Giovanni continues the story. He realized that Guillaume could be useful, that Guillaume could get him a carte de travail and a job. He tried to keep Guillaume's hands off of him, but did not wholly succeed.
  • Things were not as bad after he began working at the bar, but of Guillaume Giovanni says, "I do not know what he is. He is horrible" (1.3.125).
  • Giovanni predicts that a storm is brewing and that sooner or later Guillaume will find something to be mad at him about.
  • The two of them sit silently. David feels a strong desire to go "home, home across the ocean, to things and people I knew and understood; to those things, those places, those people which I would always helplessly, and in whatever bitterness of spirit, love above all else" (1.3.128).
  • David thinks that his situation with Giovanni is not so strange as he would like to believe, but all the same it is strange and he can not help but feel ashamed for falling head over heels for a boy.
  • The two of them go back out to find that Guillaume and Jacques are getting drunk and flirting aggressively with the boys without actually offering them money to eat. They pass out into the street.
  • David says that he really needs to get back and pay the concierge.
  • Giovanni tells him that he is mad, and says that if he wakes up hung over and alone in the hotel than he will want to kill himself.
  • Giovanni suggests that David come home with him. He says that they will wake and Giovanni will smile at him, whereas if he goes back to the hotel the concierge will not. Then they can grab dinner together.
  • As Giovanni hails a cab to take them to Nation, David realizes that Giovanni is also afraid. When the cab arrives, Giovanni almost pushes him into it, as if he fears that David will leave him if given the chance.
  • Inside the room, the two of them stare at each other for a moment. David thinks that if he does not leave immediately then everything will be lost.
  • Giovanni takes David in his arms and pulls him down to the bed, "With everything in me screaming No! yet the sum of me sighed Yes" (1.3.138).
  • The action moves back to the present, at David's home in the south of France, where it is snowing.
  • David goes and looks in the mirror, thinking that he will shave before he leaves in the morning.
  • He hears a knock at the door and realizes that it is the caretaker. She sounds worried and he is annoyed.
  • The woman smiles wide as soon as David opens the door and he realizes that everything is fine.
  • The caretaker comes from Italy, and, like most of the women in the village, seems to have gone into mourning as soon as her last child grew up.
  • David remembers walking around the village with Hella and thinking that all of the men, the husbands, seemed like they could be the sons of these old mourning women.
  • He used to play billiards and drink red wine with them at the tabac, but sensed that they would never really get along with one another.
  • He says, "They might have been the sons of these women in black, come home after a lifetime of storming and conquering the world, home, to rest and be scolded and wait for death, home to those breasts, now dry, which had nourished them in their beginnings" (1.3.141).
  • The caretaker comes in and removes her shawl. She asks whether David is sick, and says that they have not noticed him leaving the house for several days.
  • He changes the subject by asking if she would like to take the inventory.
  • As the woman begins to inventory, David sets down his drink. She tells him that she doesn't mind, but he leaves it anyway.
  • She asks if he has been going to town because the men have not seen him there.
  • When he says yes, she asks if he has been walking because the bus driver has not seen him on board the bus in awhile.
  • David doesn't know what to say. When she looks in the bathroom, he says that he will clean it before the morning, and she says that she certainly hopes so.
  • David remembers that he broke two glasses, but doesn't have the energy to tell her, so he resolves to leave money for her in the cabinet.
  • The woman tells him that he should have come across the street, that she would have been happy to cook for him.
  • He is touched, but does "not know how to indicate it, and I cannot say, of course, that eating with her and her husband would have stretched my nerves to the breaking point" (1.3.162).
  • She asks about David's fiancée. Too tired to lie, he tells her that Hella has gone to America.
  • The caretaker is surprised and asks if David will be staying in France. He says he will, for awhile.
  • He becomes nervous and begins to sweat.
  • David realizes that this Italian caretaker probably looks very much like the mother of Giovanni.
  • He says, "I keep trying not to hear her howls of anguish, I keep trying not to see in her eyes what would surely be there if she knew that her son would be dead by morning, if she knew what I had done to her son" (1.3.166).
  • But of course, it is not actually Giovanni's mother.
  • The woman tells him it is not good for a man to be alone without a woman. David can tell that she wants to say something about Hella, who none of the women liked, but she doesn't.
  • She tells him that he will be happy again, that he will find a good woman and have plenty of children.
  • She asks after his mother and father. He says that his mother is dead, but that his father is in America. She exclaims, Pauvre bambino!
  • David says, "I am really helpless in front of her and if she does not leave soon she will reduce me to tears or curses" (1.3.175).
  • She asks if he will make a home someday, and he says yes, someday.
  • The caretaker tells him that she and her husband lost two of their three sons in the war. She says it's sad to work all one's life for just a little peace and then to have it so rudely taken away. She says it almost killed her husband.
  • Still, though, she says that she loves to see her one son's children, her grandchildren.
  • Abruptly, she asks if he prays.
  • He says not often, and she asks if he is a believer. He smiles and says yes.
  • She tells him that he has to pray, that without it "one could not live in this world at all" (1.3.181).
  • The caretaker pauses and worries that she has offended David by speaking so directly. He tells her that he is not offended.
  • She smiles and says, "Men – not just babies like you, but old men, too – they always need a woman to tell them the truth" (1.3.183).
  • They go down to the bedroom, which David promises to tidy up before he leaves.
  • She jokes with him that he must get married, and he laughs (they are on good terms now) and finishes his drink.
  • When she sees the bottle, she exclaims that he will be drunk by morning.
  • David explains that he is taking the bottle with him, but she can tell that this is a lie.
  • She puts her shawl back on, and David tries to think of some way to make her stay.
  • He says, "I feel that I want to be forgiven, I want her to forgive me. But I do not know how to state my crime. My crime, in some odd way, is in being a man and she knows all about this already. It is terrible how naked she makes me feel, like a half-grown boy, naked before his mother" (1.3.188).
  • The woman departs and asks him to come back and visit some time. Just as she is stepping out, she turns and reminds him to pray one last time.
  • He closes the door.
  • David suddenly realizes that there's plenty to do before morning. He begins cleaning the bathroom, which makes him think back to the room that he shared with Giovanni in Paris. For awhile Giovanni had planned on remodeling the room, but he had never completed it.
  • David closes by saying, "I suppose they will come for him in the morning, perhaps just before dawn, so that the last thing Giovanni will ever see will be that grey, listless sky over Paris, beneath which we stumbled homeward together so many desperate and drunken mornings" (1.3.198).

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