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Giovanni's Room

Giovanni's Room

by James Baldwin

Giovanni's Room Part 2, Chapter 4 Summary

  • Note to reader: Still part of the extended flashback.
  • Finally, the note from Hella arrives saying that she is on her way.
  • Without telling Giovanni, David leaves and goes to the train station to pick her up.
  • He prays something definitive will happen the moment he sees her, but at first, it doesn't. They stand there, staring at each other, and then she asks him to come hug her.
  • He does, and when he remembers how well she fits into his arms, he knows that they can make each other very happy.
  • As David says, "She smelled of the wind and of space and I felt in her marvelously living body the possibility of legitimate surrender" (2.4.5).
  • Hella is thrilled to see him and he begins asking her all sorts of questions about Spain.
  • Hella says that she doesn't like Spain much, that she is always happy to come back to Paris.
  • She says that even if two people are divided, it seems that Paris would be a place of reconciliation. David says he hopes they don't have to put it to the test.
  • She kisses him passionately and they go back to her room to sample drinks she has brought back from Spain.
  • David tries not to think of Giovanni sitting alone in the room. He wants to postpone dealing with it, but knows that Giovanni has already divided them.
  • David says, "I kept kissing her and holding her, trying to find my way in her again, as though she were a familiar, darkened room in which I fumbled to find the light" (2.4.15).
  • It is clear that Hella can sense some distance, but she must think it is all on her end. She is not suspicious.
  • Neither of them mentions the elephant in the room – David's proposal – but he wants her to mention it. He imagines that his passion for her could drive out his passion for Giovanni.
  • David says that she has been away for a long time, and she says it is a lonely time. He asks if she likes Spain at all.
  • She says she just didn't know what she was doing there and that she had begun to fear that she missed the boat.
  • Hella brings up her positive response to David's proposal. He says he doesn't know whether or not she is serious.
  • David's fear, though he doesn't voice it, is that she just wants him because he is there, not because she loves him. He thinks, though, that if this is true then she doesn't know it.
  • She admits it was offhand, but then again, she says, everything that they do is offhand.
  • Hella says that, truth be told, she is really quite a traditional girl. She wants a house and a man to come home to and plenty of kids.
  • David says he'd always wanted the same thing.
  • They turn to each other in the dark. David feels the desire to just lie next to her; "But then, deep within, I felt her moving, rushing to open the gates of her strong, walled city and let the king of glory come in" (2.4.32).
  • David writes to his father to tell him that he has proposed to a girl named Hella Lincoln, that the only reason he has been out of touch is because he was afraid she would say no.
  • He asks for money and says he will bring her home soon and tells his father that he will love her.
  • Three days later, Hella and Giovanni meet by accident. David has not seen him in that time period.
  • While they wander about the city, Hella has begun to complain about the difficulties of being a woman.
  • David has never heard her complain like this before. She says it is hard to be at the mercy of a man.
  • She says that David has been a stranger to her many times and will be again, but David says the same is true of her.
  • Hella persists. She says, "For a woman, I think a man is always a stranger. And there's something awful about being at the mercy of a stranger" (2.4.45).
  • David says that men can be at the mercy of women, too.
  • Hella says men like that idea because "it strokes the misogynist in them" (2.4.47).
  • David laughs. He thinks that she is making a biased and silly argument.
  • Hella says that the thing she realized in Spain is that a woman can't be free until she's committed to a man. She thinks that now that she's committed to David she can sit about the house all day and read and think and complain about being a woman.
  • She tells David that they will fall very much in love, and not to worry about it.
  • David says, "You're adorable. I don't understand you at all" (2.4.56).
  • As they pass a bookstore, Hella asks if she can go pick something up. David follows her in and, among the bookshelves, he runs into Jacques.
  • Jacques tells him that he and Giovanni have been looking for David all day. He says that when Giovanni didn't hear from David for several days, he called Jacques; "The poor boy sounded as though he would have put his head in the gas oven" (2.4.62).
  • Giovanni wanted to drag the river, but Jacques just laughed. He suggested Giovanni call David at Hella's hotel, which is where Giovanni has gone. Jacques says he will be back shortly.
  • Hella returns, and David re-introduces them. Hella immediately remembers that she dislikes Jacques. He becomes excessively effeminate to flame her dislike.
  • Hella and Jacques banter about how she and David have been hiding out.
  • David, fearful of seeing Giovanni, tries to sneak out, telling Jacques that he and Hella really need to get dinner.
  • But just then, Giovanni enters the shop. He is furious and on the verge of tears. He demands to know where David has been.
  • David, with remarkable calm, introduces Hella. Giovanni greets her politely, but coldly.
  • Jacques suggests that they all go grab a drink and takes Hella by the arm. Giovanni and David walk up ahead.
  • Giovanni accuses David of hiding from him. When he tells David that he is not nice at all, David feels that he wants to cry.
  • Hella stops, saying that she is not feeling well and will go back to the hotel. She encourages David to grab drinks with his friends.
  • David says that he will walk her home, and Jacques and Giovanni are excessively polite as they depart.
  • They walk away and David can feel Jacques's and Giovanni's eyes on their backs. Hella says that Jacques gives her the creeps.
  • David stops to light a cigarette. He realizes that Hella is not suspicious, only troubled.
  • She asks about Giovanni. He tells her that he has moved in with him, in a maid's room, a couple months ago when he ran out of money.
  • Hella says it was not nice of him to leave without telling him, and David protests that Giovanni is only his roommate and he had no way to know that he would be so upset.
  • Hella says that he should really go have a drink with them; that just because they are going to be married doesn't mean that he has to break with his friends. She also says it doesn't mean that she has to like his friends.
  • After a moment, Hella comments on how incredibly intense Giovanni is, even for an Italian.
  • David says that Giovanni had a mistress and a job when David moved in with him. He tells Hella that Giovanni has lost both and perhaps that is why.
  • She asks if he is a very good friend of Jacques. David says not quite as good a friend as Jacques would like. She laughs.
  • Hella says, "I always feel a cold wind go over me when I find myself in the presence of a man who dislikes women as much as Jacques does" (2.4.119).
  • David says that then they will just have to keep Jacques away from her. He kisses her on the nose and she asks if he would like to have a drink.
  • He agrees. They go up the dark hotel stairs together, giggling like children.
  • Later, in bed, Hella asks David to tell her about Giovanni.
  • He tries to brush it off, but she is persistent.
  • She wants to know how he got such a beautiful face, and thinks there must be some reason David went to live with him.
  • David says that he is very fond of Giovanni. Feeling bold beside Hella in bed, he says, "I love him, in a way. I really do" (2.137).
  • They discuss how demonstrative and affectionate Europeans can be, but agree that it is kind of nice.
  • Hella says they should take Giovanni out for dinner sometime. David agrees.
  • He says that, since being in Paris, he has begun to realize how difficult it is for boys like Giovanni. He says that Giovanni is poor, has very little opportunity, and that competition is fierce for the few jobs that he can find.
  • They tease about how cold the world is, and Hella says that at least they have their love to keep them warm.
  • David says, "We're not the first people who thought that as they lay in bed" (2.4.151).
  • After a moment, David tells Hella that he wants to leave Paris. He says that it is suffocating him and that he can't do anything there.
  • Hella is slightly disturbed.
  • He explains that Giovanni worships him and thinks that David can help him, but the truth is that he can't. He says it is an awful situation and he will explain more later, but for now they just have to go away – perhaps to the south (of France).
  • Hella says that she will follow him wherever he wants to go.
  • The next evening, David goes to Giovanni's room. Giovanni is in bed. He is scared when David comes in because he does not recognize him.
  • As soon as he does, he curls up against the wall and starts to cry. David sighs and goes and sits next to him and urges him to stop crying.
  • David hoped he would feel nothing. But he says, "I felt a tightening in a far corner of my heart, as though a finger had touched me there" (2.4.181).
  • Giovanni says that David has never really been there, that he never really reached him.
  • David says nothing and Giovanni becomes angry.
  • He says David is evil; that he'd never told him anything but lies.
  • He says, "Do you think I did not know that when you made love to me, you were making love to no one? No one! Or everyone – but not me, certainly. I am nothing to you, nothing, and you bring me fever but no delight" (2.4.184).
  • Giovanni says that he wanted to die before he met David. He says it was cruel of David to have made him want to live, only to make his death bloodier.
  • David cannot respond because he does not know what he feels.
  • Giovanni begins to tell David his story.
  • He says he was married once, in Italy. He has a beautiful wife that loved him, and they lived happily in a village and made love every day.
  • Giovanni says that he would have grown fat in that village that was "dripping and bursting and beautiful" (2.4.192).
  • He says that perhaps David would have rolled into the village in a big ugly American car and smiled a fake smile at all the people there.
  • He says that David does not know what it is like to lie awake at night and wait for someone that does not come.
  • He says, "You do not know any of the terrible things – that is why you smile and dance the way you do and you think that the comedy you play with the short-haired, moon-faced girl is love" (2.4.192).
  • Giovanni drops his cigarette and begins to cry.
  • David thinks that he can't bear this scene.
  • Giovanni continues.
  • He says that one day he found himself walking down the dusty road out of his village alone, weeping so violently that he could barely catch his breath.
  • Giovanni and his wife had a child, but it was born dead:
  • "It was all grey and twisted when I saw it and it made no sound – and we spanked it on the buttocks and we sprinkled it with holy water and we prayed but it never made a sound, it was dead. It was a little boy, it would have been a wonderful, strong man, perhaps even the kind of man you and Jacques and Guillaume and all your disgusting band of fairies spend all your days and nights looking for, and dreaming of – but it was dead, it was my baby and we had made it, my girl and I, and it was dead. When I knew that it was dead I took our crucifix off the wall and I spat on it and I threw it on the floor and my mother and my girl screamed and I went out" (2.4.194).
  • David takes Giovanni in his arms, and Giovanni is weeping as if his heart is broken. Yet David feels that it is his own heart that has broken, and that now he is very still and far away.
  • David says that Giovanni must have known that they could not have a life together.
  • Giovanni says that he lied so much he believed his own lies.
  • He says that David never really loved anyone; that he is like a virgin trying to keep his purity intact. He says that he is "afraid of the stink of love" and that he is by far the most immoral man that Giovanni had ever known (2.4.202).
  • David protests that he can't help the way he feels. Giovanni asks what that is, and he says that he wants to get away.
  • Giovanni says at last he is beginning to be honest.
  • Giovanni mocks the innocent life that David will lead with Hella.
  • David finally begins to fight back. He says that Giovanni has no idea what life they can have together anyway. He says that Giovanni just wants to feel like a man and have David be his girl. He says that the only reason he is with David is because he is afraid of going after what he really wants – a woman.
  • Giovanni says, "You know very well what can happen between us. It is for that reason you are leaving me" (2.4.214).
  • He walks to the window and says that he will not fight with David anymore because there is nothing he can do to make him stay.
  • Giovanni says he must believe David will come back, but David says he will not and Giovanni knows it.
  • They have a cognac together, and David asks what he will do.
  • Giovanni says he will let Jacques take care of him, that Jacques thinks David is a monster. David begs Giovanni to be careful, but Giovanni retorts that David should have told him that the night they met.
  • David stays the night, packs a bag, and leaves.
  • David remembers their parting moment. Giovanni is pale and calm and just stares at him without breaking away his gaze.
  • David realized that he wants to stay, and that the fact that he is fleeing merely confirms the power that Giovanni has over him.
  • Yet he turns and walks out, and the further he gets, the more he knows he will never go back.
  • David fumbles in his pockets for bus tickets. He makes small talk with a policeman on the street, and gets on the first bus that comes.
  • His flight reminds him of his flight from Joey and from his father.
  • He thinks "But it seemed to me that morning that my ancient self had been dreaming the most dangerous dream of all" (2.4.237).
  • Time begins to fly after that and winter settles.
  • David and Hella keep busy looking for houses in the south, making love, and eating at cafés. They are often melancholy, though David doesn't think that Hella is unhappy.
  • Perhaps she senses that David is clinging to her a little too insistently and that it won't last.
  • David begins to see Giovanni out with Jacques. He is often giddy and drunk, "forcing me to taste the cup of his humiliation. And I hated him for this" (2.4.240).
  • He sees Giovanni once in the morning reading a paper, alone. Giovanni glances at him and walks away.
  • When David recounts the incident to Hella, he tries to laugh.
  • Later, Giovanni begins to appear, not with Jacques, but with the poor street-boys that he used to despise.
  • Most frequently, he appears with Yves, the pockmarked pinball player from Les Halles.
  • David takes Yves out one night to get news of Giovanni.
  • Yves tells him that Giovanni has broken with Jacques, but that he might be able to get his job back at Guillaume's.
  • About a week later, Guillaume is found dead in the quarters above his bar, "strangled with the sash of his dressing gown" (2.4.242).

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