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Giovanni's Room

Giovanni's Room

by James Baldwin

Visions of America Theme

A very small part of Giovanni's Room takes place in America. Early on, David leaves America for France, simultaneously searching for himself and attempting to lose himself. In France, America begins to exist less as a place and more as an idea. David and Giovanni use contrasts between America and Europe to discuss their own differences and difficulties. When David and Hella begin to have problems, they often relate these problems to the fact that they are Americans. The visions of America in Giovanni's Room don't aim for accurate generalizations. They are deeply personal. (See "Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory" for more on America.)

Questions About Visions of America

  1. Why does Giovanni constantly pick on David for being an American? What role does the short nature of American history play in Giovanni's prejudices against Americans?
  2. How do David and Giovanni use discussions of their respective nationalities to flirt with one another? Why do you think that they choose nationalism as the subject through which they will flirt?
  3. How important is American policy toward gay individuals in shaping David's view of America? Is Giovanni's characterization – that Americans think privacy is a crime – an accurate one?
  4. How does David and Hella's pursuit of happiness relate to the fact that they are Americans?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Giovanni uses the fact that David is an American to pinpoint the key difference between him and David – Giovanni has a long and painful past whereas David is young, optimistic, and naïve.

David is put in an impossible position, given the nature of his desires and the conflicts within American cultural ideas – he is encouraged to pursue happiness, but same-sex love is not approved of in 1950s America.

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