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Giovanni's Room

Giovanni's Room


by James Baldwin

Giovanni's Room Part 2, Chapter 2 Summary

  • Note to the reader: More flashbacks, rendered in present tense.
  • David spends a relatively brief time in Giovanni's room. Yet it feels like a lifetime. He is certain that he undergoes a sea change there.
  • The room is small with windows that open on the courtyard and are covered with white paint.
  • Giovanni began to renovate the room before David's arrival. It is constantly such a mess that they dread even doing laundry and sometimes go days without socks.
  • They have no phone and, other than Jacques, who comes rarely, no one comes to visit.
  • David remembers the first time he woke up in Giovanni's room. It was a mess. Giovanni went searching about for a "poetic figure" and suggested that all the garbage of the city was dumped in his room (2.2.5).
  • Looking back, David thinks "This was not the garbage of Paris, which would have been anonymous: this was Giovanni's regurgitated life" (2.2.9).
  • The disorder never bothers David. It is the fact that when one looks in the normal places for order, it is not there. He feels that the disorder is not just messiness; that it is a matter of "punishment and grief" (2.2.10).
  • David thinks that Giovanni is attracted to him because he wants David to transform his room and then his life.
  • David begins to play the housewife when Giovanni is at work, but he knows he will never make a good one – men never make good housewives.
  • Giovanni often tells him "how wonderful it was to have me there, how I stood, with my love and my ingenuity, between him and the dark" (2.2.11).
  • David cannot help it. He constantly fights and resists the advances of Giovanni, but he does not know how to stop.
  • Sometimes David goes to check his mail at the American Express Office at Opéra. Sometimes Giovanni keeps him company. Giovanni constantly kids him for being an American. When he is angry with David, he tells him that he is truly an American and when he is happy with him, he tells him that he is not an American. David resents it.
  • Yet, he has to admit that, when he goes to the American Express Office, all of the Americans do seem like a herd. They are bound together by a certain uniformity that he can never put his finger on.
  • He thinks, though, "Yet I also suspected that what I was seeing was but a part of the truth and perhaps not even the most important part; beneath these faces, these clothes, accents, rudeness, was power and sorrow, both unadmitted, unrealized, the power of inventors, the sorrow of the discontented" (2.2.13).
  • David waits in line behind two American girls. He gathers that one of them has fallen in love with a Swiss boy and that she is trying to stay on in Europe.
  • When he reaches the front of the line, he finds that he has two letters – one from his father and one from Hella. He opens his father's first.
  • The letter from David's father is loving and concerned. He tells David that he is wasting his time over there; that he wants to be let in on the secret of what is keeping him in Paris; that he is too old (pushing thirty) to still be gallivanting around; and that he wants him to come back.
  • David thinks that the question his father really wants to ask is whether or not he has a girl. He thinks that the reason he didn't, though, is because he could not have endured an answer in the negative.
  • David sees a sailor walk by. He wishes that he were the sailor, and now he says, "He seemed – somehow – younger than I had ever been, and blonder and more beautiful, and he wore his masculinity as unequivocally as he wore his skin" (2.2.19).
  • A moment later, though, the sailor looks at him with contempt. David realizes it is because the sailor sees the desire in his eyes, and he leaves the Office and walks to a café down by the river to read Hella's letter.
  • Hella says that, though she adores Spain, she misses Paris. She says that her response to David's proposal is in the affirmative, and that there is an English boy who has been chasing her there. Yet, the boy will be gone in a week and she can return to Spain.
  • After reading the letter, David realizes that he has been waiting for it for a long time. He orders a drink and wonders what he is going to do.
  • David is relieved. He feels like the necessity for decision has been taken out of his hands. Giovanni must have known that their life together would end – sooner or later.
  • For a moment, David thinks of going straight to Giovanni and telling him immediately. He thinks that he is afraid of the look on Giovanni's face, but then he realizes that his fear is of something else.
  • David heads down to Montparnasse to go looking for a girl. The first few prostitutes he sees are not very attractive, and so he keeps looking.
  • The girl that David finds is named Sue. He knows her. She is not pretty, but not unattractive either. She is from Philadelphia, and as soon as David sees her he begins to mentally undress her.
  • She is happy to see him and they sit down to have drinks. She claims that her heart is built like a brick stonewall, and asks David where he is living.
  • He tells her that he is living in a maid's room out by the gym, and lies about Giovanni. He says there is a boy who will occasionally get thrown out by his mistress and will come stay with him.
  • When David sees how much the waiter despises the two of them, it makes him think of how good Giovanni is with waiters.
  • He says, "With this fleeting thought there came another, equally fleeting: a new sense of Giovanni, his private life and pain, and all that moved like a flood in him when we lay together at night" (2.2.46).
  • Sue is trying to be coy. David feels that he is doing something very cruel.
  • He propositions her, asking to have a drink at her place. She refuses kindly, saying that she is sure she shouldn't. He is insistent and she reluctantly agrees, provided that David buys himself a drink on the way back since she has nothing there.
  • When they get back, David immediately takes her in his arms. He can feel how stiff she is and knows that what they are about to do will not be pretty.
  • She moves out of his arms and asks if the two of them can have a drink. When he suggests they have a couple, she says not too many and "simpered, again, suggestively, like a broken-down movie queen facing the cruel cameras again after a long eclipse" (2.2.76).
  • David thinks that whatever he has done with Giovanni, nothing is as immoral as what he is about to do to Sue.
  • When he takes her in his arms, he notices that "It was a gesture of great despair and I knew that she was giving herself, not to me, but to that lover who would never come" (2.2.79).
  • David wonders if Sue has taken birth control. The thought of her becoming pregnant – of him becoming trapped just as he was trying to escape – almost makes him laugh.
  • He realizes that Sue is not Hella, and that their experience is not decreasing his fear but increasing it. He thinks that his fear has nothing to do with bodies, male or female.
  • Their sex is more of a success than he could have imagined, though the entire time he is just waiting for it to end.
  • After they finish, David has a cigarette and Sue has a drink. She asks if they could do it again sometime, and David says that he doesn't see why not.
  • She asks if they can have dinner, and David talks his way around it. She realizes what happened and goes to the bathroom to wash up and get dressed.
  • She comes back and looks at David and says that perhaps he will be lonely again. She wouldn't mind that.
  • David says, "She wore the strangest smile I had ever seen. It was pained and vindictive and humiliated but she inexpertly smeared across this grimace a bright, girlish gaiety – as rigid as the skeleton beneath her flabby body. If fate ever allowed Sue to reach me, she would kill me with just that smile" (2.2.94).
  • In a sad attempt at a joke, David tells her to keep a candle in the window.
  • Sue opens the door and they walk out into the night.

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