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Giovanni's Room

Giovanni's Room


by James Baldwin

Giovanni's Room Part 2, Chapter 5 Summary

  • Note to reader: The extended flashback continues.
  • The murder creates an enormous scandal, and everything points to Giovanni as the murderer.
  • As David says, "Such a scandal always threatens, before its reverberations cease, to rock the very foundations of the state. It is necessary to find an explanation, a solution, and a victim with the utmost possible speed" (2.5.1).
  • A number of gay bars are closed, and the police begin going around picking up society men known for having "peculiar tastes."
  • Both the street-boys and the society men are frightened of this outburst of public morality.
  • The longer that Giovanni ceases to appear, the more intense become the cries against him printed in the papers.
  • Ironically, the papers paint Guillaume extremely gently, playing up the fact that he comes from one of the oldest families in France. They nearly paint him as "a symbol of French manhood" (2.5.2).
  • David is furious, and complains to Hella that the papers aren't getting it straight.
  • She argues that they are telling part of the truth and that's all papers can be expected to do.
  • Hella asks David if he thinks that Giovanni really did it. He says that it certainly looks like he did.
  • Hella comments that David has made peculiar friends while she was away, and he cries that they wouldn't seem so peculiar if one of them had not been murdered.
  • Hella thinks that David should be able to tell if Giovanni is capable of murder or not since he lived with him. David says that doesn't mean anything. He says that Hella doesn't know if he himself is capable of murder.
  • She argues that she can tell that he isn't capable of murder because she loves him. David exclaims that he loves Giovanni, but Hella says that it isn't in the same way that she loves him.
  • When Hella asks why David is so upset, he becomes indignant. He says that Giovanni is a friend of his, that he is a nice man, and that David doesn't want to see him get into trouble.
  • Hella tells David that the two of them can leave Paris soon so he won't have to think about it. She tells him not to pretend it is his fault.
  • David says that he knows that it isn't his fault, but at the same time he feels like he wants to cry.
  • Giovanni stays at large for nearly a week. David thinks about him every night.
  • He says, "I looked to Hella for help. I tried to bury each night, in her, all my guilt and terror. The need to act was like a fever in me, the only act possible was the act of love" (2.5.30).
  • When they find Giovanni, he is hiding in a barge on the Seine. They predicted that he had fled to Argentina, so it is a surprise to find him still in the city.
  • He looks pale and haggard and still has Guillaume's money on him, which he has been unable to spend.
  • The papers say that the motive was probably a bungled robbery and report Giovanni's cries for mercy and forgiveness.
  • As David says, they "told us, too, in delicious detail, how he had done it; but not why. Why was too black for the newsprint to carry and too deep for Giovanni to tell" (2.5.31).
  • David thinks that he might have been the only person in Paris who knows why Giovanni did it.
  • He remembers the night Giovanni told him about what Guillaume had done to him. He thinks that Jacques probably told everyone at the bar that Giovanni was single, and that it induced a mad riot. By then, Giovanni had probably given up on love and would act as others pleased.
  • David imagines the scene with Guillaume. (Note, then that what is below may or may not have happened. Since it's an imagined past scene we render it in the past tense.)
  • Giovanni went back to see Guillaume and ask for his job back. Guillaume teased him about David leaving him, but told him to come back later.
  • Giovanni went and had drinks with some of the street-boys. He wished that one of them would tell him to stay away from Guillaume, but none of them would have understood.
  • David imagines that Giovanni went back, and was invited up to Guillaume's room. He imagines that Giovanni protested, that he said he couldn't do it, but that Guillaume overpowered him.
  • David says, "I think if this had not happened, Giovanni would not have killed him" (2.5.45).
  • He imagines that after Guillaume took advantage of him, Guillaume became business-like and said that he could not offer Giovanni a position.
  • The two of them understood that the real reason was that Giovanni had lost his drawing power, his secret appeal.
  • Guillaume was delighted, and began to make fun of Giovanni, to mock their current situation.
  • At some point, he must have crossed the line and Giovanni attacked him. David thinks that Giovanni did not mean to do it, but that he pursued Guillaume about the room, and that just as Guillaume was about to escape, he pulled away the sash of his dressing gown and put it about his neck.
  • David says, "Then he simply held on, sobbing, becoming lighter every moment as Guillaume grew heavier, tightening the sash and cursing. Then Guillaume fell. And Giovanni fell – back into the room, the streets, the world, in the presence and the shadow of death" (2.5.48).
  • Back to the flashback:
  • David and Hella move to their house in the South. David doesn't want to be there or anywhere.
  • He thinks about staying in Paris to be close to the trial. Jacques stays close and brings David updates. There is nothing either of them can do.
  • Giovanni pleads guilty, with robbery as the motive. The papers continue to slander him and to pity Guillaume.
  • Though there is nothing David can do for Giovanni, for a time he thinks that he still might be able to help Hella.
  • Yet all he can think about is Giovanni's trial: "And the nightmare of this house began" (2.5.50).
  • David's love for Hella gradually turns to hatred. He ceases to find her attractive, thinks the swing of her breasts is irritating, and that her unwashed underwear is disgusting.
  • As he says, "All that had once delighted me seemed to have turned sour on my stomach" (2.5.52).
  • David is terrified of what is happening. He feels that he is about to begin a great fall, that Hella is the only thing keeping him from it, and that her fingers are slipping.
  • They travel a lot in the south of France, but don't have enough money to enjoy themselves. A great distance grows between them. There are long periods of silence, and Hella begins to lose her confidence – one can see her despair on her face.
  • For reasons that he does not understand, David is able to make love in the mornings. Yet there is no excitement in it and neither of them enjoy it.
  • One night, David wakes up screaming from a nightmare.
  • Hella begs him to tell her what the problem is. He tries to dismiss it, but she guesses it.
  • She says that it is Giovanni; that he is blaming himself for what happened to Giovanni.
  • David unintentionally exclaims, "He was so beautiful" (2.5.64).
  • He pours himself a drink and admits that Giovanni and he had a terrible fight before they parted. He admits that Giovanni was in love with him.
  • Hella says that she knows how David feels, but he denies it. She begs him not to shut her out.
  • David says that he just needs some time, but Hella retorts that he has been saying that for a long time.
  • She wants to know what they are doing in the South. She wants David back. She wants to return to the States and to have kids and start a family.
  • When Hella asks David what he wants, he says that he does not know.
  • She begs him to tell her the truth. He asks her for patience, but she says that she doesn't know how to be patient when she doesn't even know where he has gone.
  • Hella begins crying and David holds her without feeling anything. Then, "I stepped away from her. She swayed, where I had left her, like a puppet dangling from a string" (2.5.85).
  • Hella begs David to let her be a woman. She goes up to him and kisses him, but he cannot respond. When he does, he feels as if he is very far away and is just watching two strangers embrace.
  • Soon after, David goes to Nice and goes roaming about for a sailor. He finds one and they spend a few days together. They are having drinks in a bar when David looks in a mirror and sees Hella's face.
  • He says, "She looked very tired and drab and small" (2.5.88).
  • The sailor asks David if the woman has the wrong bar. Hella says that isn't all she got wrong and the sailor looks at David.
  • When the sailor realizes the situation, he laughs and moves away.
  • Hella says that she thinks she has known for a long time, and David follows her out into the cold streets in silence.
  • Hella says that it is time for her to go home – "I wish I'd never left it" (2.5.99).
  • As Hella packs, she says that if she stays any longer she will forget what it means to be a woman.
  • David doubts that she could forget that. He wants to say many things, but the words close in his throat.
  • He tells her that, when he lied, he wasn't lying to her.
  • With a terrible face, Hella looks at him and exclaims that she was the one he was talking to, the one he had asked to come live in this house with him, to marry him.
  • David says what he meant was that he was lying to himself, but Hella is unimpressed. He shouts that he did not mean to do it.
  • Hella says, "Don't shout. I'll soon be gone. Then you can shout it to those hills out there, shout it to the peasants, how guilty you are, how you love to be guilty" (2.5.110).
  • David wants to comfort her, but he knows that if he touches her it will be torture for both of them.
  • Hella says what makes her so mad is that she knew. She wishes that David had told her since women are always waiting for the man to speak.
  • David does not respond.
  • She says that then they would not have wasted so much time in this house.
  • David says that maybe all he knew was that he needed to get out of Giovanni's room.
  • Hella tells him that now he is out, that it is her turn to get out. She tries to make a joke about Giovanni being the only one to lose his head, but it does not go over well for either of them.
  • As she finishes packing, she says she will never understand how that little Italian gangster ruined their life. She tries to laugh but starts to cry.
  • She says, "Americans should never come to Europe. It means they can never be happy again. What's the good of an American who isn't happy? Happiness was all we had" (2.5.119).
  • She falls into his arms, for the last time, sobbing.
  • David begs her not to believe that; they have so much more.
  • She cries for how much she wants David. She says that every man she meets now will make her think of him.
  • David asks her to try to forgive him much later, when she is happy.
  • Hella says that she no longer knows anything about happiness or forgiveness. She begins applying make-up, and says that it is true that there is a difference between little boys and little girls. Girls want little boys, but she has no idea what little boys want.
  • She tells David to mix her a drink and says, "I wish I could drink all the way to Paris and all the way across that criminal ocean" (2.5.123).
  • They drink in silence and then the taxi arrives. David carries out her bags and settles with the driver.
  • He asks if she wants him to come to the station, but she just says good-bye. He says the same and they shake hands.
  • As the taxi pulls away, David waves one last time. Hella does not wave back.
  • Note to the reader: The book ends now in the present, at David's house in the south of France.
  • Dawn begins to come up around David's house. His bags are packed. The bus will arrive for him shortly, but for the moment he cannot move.
  • There is a blue envelope on the table. It is a letter from Jacques telling him the date of Giovanni's execution.
  • David watches his reflection in the window, but as the sun comes up it grows more and more faint. This amuses him.
  • He tries to imagine what Giovanni is doing right now. He imagines the keys jangling down the hall and all the prison filled with dread.
  • David goes to the bedroom to change into the clothes he will wear to travel.
  • There is a mirror in the room that makes him terribly uncomfortable.
  • He imagines that Giovanni's face appears before him, and he imagines Giovanni being dragged from his cell, perhaps moaning, or crying, or perhaps saying nothing at all.
  • He imagines Giovanni being taken to the priest's office and hugging the cross before he is carried on.
  • David looks at his own naked body in the mirror. He says, "I look at my body, which is under sentence of death. It is lean, hard, and cold, the incarnation of a mystery. And I do not know what moves in this body, what this body is searching. It is trapped in my mirror as it is trapped in time and it hurries toward revelation" (2.5.145).
  • Looking down at his "sex," David thinks of all the trouble it has caused him and wonders how he can escape now.
  • He imagines Giovanni begin taken into the room of his execution. He says, "Then the earth tilts, he is thrown forward on his face in darkness, and his journey begins" (2.5.148).
  • David dresses and thinks that he simply must keep his faith that it is possible for the grace of God to carry him out of his situation.
  • Dressed, he exits the house. He returns the key to the caretaker, and sees a group of people before him waiting for the bus.
  • In his words, "The morning weighs on my shoulders with the dreadful weight of hope and I take the blue envelope which Jacques has sent me and tear it slowly into many pieces, watching them dance in the wind, watching the wind carry them away. Yet as I turn and begin walking toward the waiting people, the wind blows some of them back on me" (2.5.150).

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