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Giovanni's Room

Giovanni's Room


by James Baldwin

Giovanni's Room Part 2, Chapter 1 Summary

  • Recalling his time with Giovanni, David says, "I remember that life in that room seemed to be occurring beneath the sea, time flowed past indifferently above us, hours and days had no meaning" (2.1.1).
  • Note to the reader: We're back to our extended flashback, which we render in the present tense.
  • Their relationship is filled with joy and amazement, but David thinks that deeper down there is anguish and fear.
  • He can see the suffering that Giovanni is going through in his very face, which is beginning to look old and gaunt.
  • David and Giovanni often go to Guillaume's bar and stay until breakfast. Ever since their affair started, Jacques has been coming out more and more. He always offers to drive them home, but they choose to walk.
  • Spring is beginning to bloom in Paris. On their regular walks back, David and Giovanni get to know the firemen.
  • David alludes to the fact that later, that winter, Giovanni will be hiding in a barge and it is going to be a fireman who tips off the police. (This is a mystery, but don't sweat it – we're not supposed to understand it yet.)
  • At some point, Giovanni loses his job. As the two of them walk around and observe the people working the bookstalls and the couples on bicycles, things are very bitter between them.
  • Giovanni knows that David is going to leave him. Hella is coming back from Spain. David's father is sending him money that will allow him to escape from Giovanni's room.
  • Energy seems to increase in the city as spring arrives. David says, "There seemed to be more chatter – in that curiously measured and vehement language, which sometimes reminds me of stiffening egg white and sometimes of stringed instruments but always of the underside and aftermath of passion" (2.1.5).
  • The men in Guillaume's bar do not like David. He thinks that watching him and Giovanni together "[make] them furious that the dead center of their lives [is], in this instance, none of their business" (2.1.6).
  • Giovanni and David often stay up drinking and smoking and talking. Giovanni is very open, but David always feels the need to hide something.
  • For example, he does not tell Giovanni about Hella until he absolutely had to because she is coming back to Paris.
  • Giovanni asks what she is doing in Spain in the first place. He suggests that perhaps she has a Spanish lover, and says that he does not understand the way of doing things. Why aren't they together if Hella is his mistress?
  • Giovanni asks if Hella is younger (she is, by two years) and if she is married (she is not).
  • Giovanni says that if Hella has a husband somewhere her living in Spain would make sense because she couldn't spend too much time with David.
  • David takes all of it as a joke and laughs. He asks if Giovanni has a mistress, but Giovanni says that women are more trouble than he can afford at present.
  • David asks if Giovanni dislikes women.
  • He denies it, saying, "Women are like water. They are tempting like that, and they can be that treacherous, and they can seem to be that bottomless, you know? – and they can be that shallow" (2.1.26).
  • Giovanni admits that he only makes love to women with his body, and David says that makes one very lonely. They are both surprised by the honest moment.
  • Giovanni hems and haws, trying to say that he respects women, but David presses him and he says that they are "full of ideas and nonsense, and thinking themselves equal to men – quelle rigolade! – they need to be beaten half to death so that they can find out who rules the world" (2.1.30).
  • David asks if Giovanni knows women that like to be beaten. He says that he doesn't know whether or not they like it, but he beats them anyway.
  • They both laugh.
  • Giovanni returns to the subject of Hella. He asks whether or not she wants David.
  • David suggests that she went to Spain to find out.
  • Giovanni thinks that is a stupid suggestion and thinks it was unfair for her to weigh David against all the men in Spain.
  • David becomes defensive, saying that she is a complex and intelligent girl. Giovanni says that she sounds rather silly.
  • Then David abruptly retorts, "If she were in Paris now, then I would not be in this room with you" (2.1.37).
  • Giovanni doesn't understand. He agrees that David would not be living there, but thinks that they could still see each other.
  • David asks what would happen if she found out.
  • The two of them continue to bicker. Giovanni says that David is incomprehensible, that he is trying to make an English murder mystery of his life when they have not actually committed any crime.
  • David says his concern is just that she would be terribly hurt if she found out. He also points out that, in America, what they are doing is a crime.
  • Giovanni retorts that David shouldn't be afraid of dirty words. He adds, "If your countrymen think that privacy is a crime, so much the worse for your country" (2.1.46).
  • He presses the point, wanting to know if David would have any time after Hella got back.
  • David begins to lose his patience.
  • Giovanni says that he couldn't see any reason why Hella would not like David. He says, "To arrange, mon cher, la vie pratique, is very simple – it only has to be done" (2.1.51).
  • David thinks that perhaps Giovanni's resistance, his presentation of himself was linked to the fact that "he knew, unwillingly, at the very bottom of his heart, that I helplessly, at the very bottom of mine, resisted him with all my strength" (2.1.51).
  • They sleep. When they wake, they both know that they desperately want to get out of the room.
  • David leaves Giovanni at the door to Guillaume's. He wanders the streets, perhaps writing letters to his father and his fiancé. He says, "And no matter what I was doing, another me sat in my belly, absolutely cold with terror over the question of my life" (2.1.54).
  • Note to the reader: Here, we're back to general reminiscence from David's house in the south of France.
  • David remembers a time when Giovanni and he were splitting a bag of cherries. They were joking and jostling each other and laughing. They were happy.
  • Realizing this, David knew how lucky he was to have a love in his life at his age. Yet a moment later a boy passed and David imagined that he could be in love with that boy the same way he was in love with Giovanni.
  • He fears the moment when he and Giovanni will separate.
  • He says, "And would I then, like all the others, find myself turning and following all kinds of boys down God knows what dark avenues, into what dark places?" (2.1.55).
  • He goes on, "With this fearful intimation there opened in me a hatred for Giovanni which was as powerful as my love and which was nourished by the same roots" (2.1.56).

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