I told her that I had loved her once and I made myself believe it. But I wonder if I had. I was thinking, no doubt, of our nights in bed, of the peculiar innocence and confidence which will never come again which had made those nights so delightful, so unrelated to past, present, or anything to come, so unrelated, finally, to my life since it was not necessary for me to take any but the most mechanical responsibility for them. (1.1.4)
Here, David questions whether or not he ever really loved Hella. Can love ever stand up to this sort of analysis?
I was beginning to judge him. And the very harshness of this judgment, which broke my heart, revealed, though I could not have said it then, how much I had loved him, how that love, along with my innocence, was dying. (1.1.53)
In what ways is David's understanding of his judgment of his father like the blues? How can one find love implied in cruelty, happiness in sadness? How does this sort of view change the way that one thinks of one's feelings and emotions?
He wanted no distance between us, he wanted me to look on him as a man like myself. But I wanted the merciful distance of father and son, which would have permitted me to love him. (1.1.54)
Why do a father and son require some distance in order to love one another? In what ways is love "prescribed"? Why is it that certain relationships seem to require a certain kind of love?
"Love him. Love him and let him love you. Do you think anything else under heaven really matters? And how long, at the best, can it last, since you are both men and still have everywhere to go? Only five minutes, I assure you, only five minutes, and most of that, helas! in the dark. And if you think of them as dirty, then they will be dirty – they will be dirty because you will be giving nothing, you will be despising your flesh and his. But you can make your time together anything but dirty, you can give each other something which will make both of you better – forever – if you will not be ashamed, if you will only not play it safe." (1.3.98)
What is the relationship between sex and love presented in the book? Is David's fear that he will find himself sexually attracted to Giovanni or that he will love him? Why, even when one is in love, can sex make one feel ashamed? Why would the shame be particularly strong in David's case?
"Somebody, your father or mine, should have told us that not many people have ever died of love. But multitudes have perished, and are perishing every hour – and in the oddest places! – for the lack of it." (1.3.105)
How true is Jacques's assessment of love? Is Jacques one of the people that is perishing for the lack of love? To what extent is he infusing David's situation with his own views and ideas?
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)
Are love and hatred compatible? Do they destroy each other or can they co-exist? How is David's hatred of Giovanni linked to his love for him?
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)
Is David just speaking about Sue? It seems he could also be speaking about himself.
I do not know if his hair has been cut or is long – I should think it would have been cut. I wonder if he is shaven. And now a million details, proof and fruit of intimacy, flood my mind. I wonder, for example, if he feels the need to go to the bathroom, if he has been able to eat today, if he is sweating, or dry. I wonder if anyone has made love to him in prison. And then something shakes me, I feel shaken hard and dry, like some dead thing in the desert, and I know that I am hoping that Giovanni is being sheltered in someone's arms tonight. (2.3.44)
Giovanni has accused David of being afraid of the dirtiness of love. Is the accusation true? Does David here overcome his fear of the filth of love? Why does he take his finical concerns as proof of his love for Giovanni? What is it about love that allows one to be enthralled with another's bodily functions (e.g. the need to go to the bathroom)?
"You do not," cried Giovanni, sitting up, "love anyone! You never have loved anyone, I am sure you never will! You love your purity, you love your mirror – you are just like a little virgin, you walk around with your hands in front of you as though you had some precious metal, gold, silver, rubies, maybe diamonds down there between your legs! You will never give it to anybody, you will never let anybody touch it – man or woman." (2.4.202)
David and Giovanni have already slept together, many times. What does Giovanni mean that David thinks he has "diamonds" between his legs? If he has not already given his love to Giovanni then what would giving them entail? How much of Giovanni's outburst has to do with David? How much of it has to do with Giovanni?
Much has been written of love turning to hatred, of the heart growing cold with the death of love. It is a remarkable process. It is far more terrible than anything I have ever read about it, more terrible than anything I will ever be able to say. (2.5.51)
Above, when David spoke of Giovanni, he spoke of his love and his hate for him as if the two could co-exist. Here, speaking of Hella, it seems that love is opposed to hatred. Why does David use the word hatred? How might you describe David's "hatred" for Hella? Might the word indifference be a better choice? In what ways is indifference a form of hatred?
Now, from this night, this coming morning, no matter how many beds I find myself in between now and my final bed, I shall never be able to have any more of those boyish, zestful affairs – which are, really, when one thinks of it, a kind of higher, or, anyway, more pretentious masturbation. People are too various to be treated so lightly. I am too various to be trusted. (1.1.5)
In what ways have David's affairs been nothing but a "more pretentious" form of masturbation? What does David mean by the word "pretentious" here? If both people involved in the affair realize that they are just using each other, is it still "masturbation"? What about if one of them thinks they are in love?
But this time when I touched him something happened in him and in me which made this touch different from any touch either of us had ever known. (1.1.18)
Do we think that David was really as ignorant as he says that he was? Is this the start of love, "something happened"?
Perhaps it was because he looked so innocent lying there, with such perfect trust; perhaps it was because he was so much smaller than me; my own body suddenly seemed gross and crushing and the desire which was rising in me seemed monstrous. But, above all, I was suddenly afraid. It was borne in me: But Joey is a boy. (1.1.19)
Part of the reason that David begins to feel guilty about sleeping with Joey is because he sees how small and innocent Joey looks. It seems that David associates sex and desire with a betrayal of trust; he sees sex as dirty.
"I'm sort of queer for girls myself." (1.2.51)
What is the affect of David using the word "queer" to describe the fact that he is interested in women? How does the context (Guillaume's gay bar) affect David's word choice?
"Because there is no affection in them, and no joy. It's like putting an electric plug in a dead socket. Touch, but no contact. All touch, but no contact and no light." (1.3.87)
Here is Jacques's description of why his sexual affairs seem shameful. If Jacques thinks that they're shameful, why does he continue them? What alternatives does he have? To what extent is he admitting that he is living vicariously through David and Giovanni?
"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. And that dirty." He stopped. "I perhaps don't like women very much, that's true. That hasn't stopped me from making love to many and loving one or two. But most of the time – most of the time I made love only with the body." (2.1.26)
In this quote, Giovanni describes his relationships with women. Is it possible to love a woman (or a man, for that matter) without liking her? Is it possible to love a woman without respecting her? What is the relationship between loving and liking, between loving and respecting?
The question he longed to ask was not in the letter and neither was the offer: Is it a woman, David? Bring her on home. I don't care who she is. Bring her on home and I'll help you get set up. He could not risk this question because he could not have endured the answer in the negative. An answer in the negative would have revealed what strangers we had become. (2.2.19)
How well does it seem that David's father knows him? Would an answer in the negative suggest to him that David is gay or would it only make David a mystery to him? Why does David's father rein in his desire to be friends with David on this one particular point?
"For a woman," she said, "I think a man is always a stranger. And there's something awful about being at the mercy of a stranger."
"But men are at the mercy of women, too. Have you never thought of that?"
"Ah!" she said, "men may be at the mercy of women – I think men like that idea, it strokes the misogynist in them. But if a particular man is ever at the mercy of a particular woman – why, he's somehow stopped being a man. And the lady, then, is more neatly trapped than ever." (2.4.45-47)
What does Hella mean that men's pretending they are at the mercy of women "strokes the misogynist in them"? If men believed that they actually had power over women, why would they enjoy pretending that they did not? In what ways are men at the mercy of women? In what ways do they enjoy saying that they are?
"If I stay here much longer," she said, later that same morning, as she packed her bag, "I'll forget what it's like to be a woman."
She was extremely cold, she was bitterly handsome. (2.5.100-101)
There's an incredibly telling word in this scene. David describes Hella as handsome. What does the word imply in this context? How could David not have been aware of how he saw Hella? Is David aware now?
I was in the bed upstairs, asleep. It was quite late. I was suddenly awakened by the sound of my father's footfalls on the walk beneath my window. I could tell by the sound and the rhythm that he was a little drunk and I remember at that moment a certain disappointment, an unprecedented sorrow entered into me. I had seen him drunk many times and had never felt this way – on the contrary, my father sometimes had great charm when he was drunk – but that night, I suddenly felt that there was something in it, in him, to be despised. (1.1.30)
What expectations did David have of his father that were disappointed on this night? Did he know that he had them? Might he have been less disappointed if he was acutely aware of them? Why does David use the word despised? Do you think that he could explain his word choice if you asked him?
"A man," said Ellen, shortly, "is not the same thing as a bull. Good-night." (1.1.48)
What is Ellen trying to say to David's father? Is David's father really acting like a bull? To what extent do her prejudices about men affect David's later neuroses regarding his masculinity?
We were not like father and son, my father sometimes proudly said, we were like buddies. I think my father sometimes actually believed this. I never did. I did not want to be his buddy, I wanted to be his son. What passed between us as masculine candor exhausted and appalled me. (1.1.54)
What exactly is "masculine candor"? Why does David think that this candor should not exist between a father and a son? What about David's situation made such candor particularly unappealing?
I pretended not to see, although I exploited it, the lust not quite sleeping in his bright, bitter eyes and, by means of the rough, male candor with which I conveyed to him his case was hopeless, I compelled him, endlessly, to hope. (1.2.27)
As you read these lines, remember that this story is in the past tense. Meaning that it is remembered. David here gives a remarkably complex explanation of his behavior. How much of the explanation seems to have been part of his motivation at the time? How much of it has David put there only in hindsight? Exactly what role does "male candor" play in David's deception of Jacques?
"I was not suggesting that you jeopardize, even for a moment, that" he paused – "that immaculate manhood which is your pride and joy." (1.2.53)
When Jacques uses the word "immaculate" he is poking fun at David. Why does Jacques hang out with David if David claims not to be interested in men? Is Jacques trying to prove something to David? What does sexual preference have to do with masculinity according to David? According to Jacques?
She smiled a satisfied smile. "Men – not just babies like you, but old men, too – they always need a woman to tell the truth. Les hommes, ils sont impossible." (1.3.183)
Is David particularly susceptible to the caretaker's view at this moment? Where is the woman in the story who can tell David the truth? Does Hella ever act as a truth-teller?
"Oh, well," said Giovanni, "these absurd women running around today, 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)
At a glance, Giovanni's views on women seem despicable. Later, we learn about his traumatic past in Italy and get some hint into why he fears and despises women. Does the fact that we understand Giovanni's view make them any less despicable?
I was staring at him, though I did not know it, and wishing I were he. 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)
Here, David is watching a young sailor. There are a couple things going on. For one, it is clear that David is attracted to the sailor, who he describes as blonde and "beautiful." At the same time, David is jealous of the sailor because he would never describe himself. Thus David is simultaneously envious of the sailor for not being gay and, but also attracted to him. What does it mean for the sailor to be invested with both of these qualities? What does it suggest about how they co-exist within David?
I was ashamed. The very bed, in its sweet disorder, testified to vileness. I wondered what Joey's mother would say when she saw the sheets. Then I thought of my father, who had no one in the world but me, my mother having died when I was little. A cavern opened in my mind, black, full of rumor, suggestion, of half-heard, half-forgotten, half-understood stories, full of dirty words. (1.1.19)
Notice, here, that David condemns himself. He begins spinning rumors about himself. What makes David do this? Is his guilt borne within himself or has it somehow been planted within him?
The incident with Joey had shaken me profoundly and its effect was to make me secretive and cruel. I could not discuss what had happened to me with anyone, I could not even admit it to myself; and, while I never thought about it, it remained, nevertheless, at the bottom of my mind, as still and as awful as a decomposing corpse. And it changed, it thickened, it soured the atmosphere of my mind. (1.1.51)
Why does guilt make David "secretive and cruel"? If he understood why he felt guilty is it possible that he would be more open about it? Does secrecy somehow prolong guilt and nourish it? David's narrative, the story we're reading, is a sort of confession. Do you think this sort of confession relieves guilt and allows for honesty?
And we got on quite well, really, for the vision I gave my father of my life was exactly the vision in which I myself most desperately needed to believe. (1.1.74)
What exactly is the image of himself that David gives to his father? In what ways does our public persona always conceal something about ourselves and leave it private? Is there any way to change the relationship between the public and the private self?
Perhaps everybody has a Garden of Eden, I don't know; but they have scarcely seen their garden before they see the flaming sword. Then, perhaps, life only offers the choice of remembering the garden or forgetting it. Either, or; it takes strength to remember, it takes another kind of strength to forget, it takes a hero to do both. People who remember court madness through pain, the pain of the perpetually recurring death of their innocence; people who forget court another kind of madness, the madness of the denial of pain and the hatred of innocence; and the world is mostly divided between madmen who remember and madmen who forget. Heroes are rare. (1.2.19)
In what sense does David speak of the "Garden of Eden" here? Is it the Biblical garden? Is it something that is real or only imagined? In what ways does the "Garden of Eden" relate to innocence? Is anyone ever really entirely innocent? Entirely experienced?
But I knew I could not open the door, I knew it was too late; soon it was too late to do anything but moan. He pulled me against him, putting himself into my arms as though he were giving me himself to carry, and slowly pulled me down with him to that bed. With everything in me screaming No! yet the sum of me sighed Yes. (1.3.138)
Why is everything in David screaming No? David hasn't once resisted the advances of Giovanni. How is it possible for him to deny the fact that he is attracted to Giovanni when all of his behavior confirms the opposite? Is there a right choice here? Should he listen to his body or his mind?
Giovanni liked to believe that he was hard-headed and that I was not and that he was teaching me the stony facts of life. It was very important for him to feel this: it was because 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. (2.1.52)
Does Giovanni know that David is resisting him? Is it easy to tell, from David's behavior, that he is resisting Giovanni? What would happen if they put the resistance straight out on the table and discussed it? Is such a move even possible given the extent of David's repression?
"You want to leave Giovanni because he makes you stink. You want to despise Giovanni because he is not afraid of the stink of love. You want to kill him in the name of all your lying little moralities. And you – you are immoral. You are, by far, the most immoral man I have met in my life." (2.4.202)
What does Giovanni mean by the "stink of love"? Is it only the fact that David is in a same-sex relationship that makes him think love is dirty? Is it possible that he would feel the same way in a heterosexual relationship? Does everyone have to acknowledge and come to terms with the "stink of love"?
"All this love you talk about – isn't it just that you want to be made to feel strong? You want to go out and be the laborer and bring home the money and you want me to stay here and wash the dishes and cook the food and clean this miserable closet of a room and kiss you when you come in through the door and lie with you at night and be your little girl." (2.4.209)
In their final fight, David has finally lashed back at Giovanni. As with Giovanni's accusations, David's say as much about himself as about Giovanni. What does David's outburst say about David? What does it say about Giovanni? What conditions would have to change for them to have an honest relationship? Are those conditions within their control or outside of it?
The body in the mirror forces me to turn and face it. And 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)
Is David's repression a physical act or a mental act? That is, does he seem to think that he is repressing something about his body or something about his mind? Does David feel comfortable in his body? Does he feel estranged from it? Why?
People are too various to be treated so lightly. I am too various to be trusted. If this were not so I would not be alone in this house tonight. Hella would not be on the high seas. And Giovanni would not be about to perish, sometime between this night and this morning, on the guillotine. (1.1.5)
What does David mean when he says that he is "various"? How is David various? What events in David's past have made him such a mysterious man, so hard to pin down? Why does this condemn him to loneliness?
We had our arms around each other. It was like holding in my hand some rare, exhausted, nearly doomed bird which I had miraculously happened to find. I was very frightened, I am sure he was frightened too, and we shut our eyes. (1.1.18)
Even as David and Joey embrace each other, how does their fear keep both of them very alone and far apart? Do you think David sensed at the time that their relationship was "doomed" or do you think this is something he is layering on from his vantage point in the past?
What happened was that, all unconscious of what this ennui meant, I wearied of the motion, wearied of the joyless seas of alcohol, wearied of the blunt, bluff, hearty, and totally meaningless friendships, wearied of wandering through the forests of desperate women, wearied of the work which fed me only in the most brutally literal sense. (1.1.76)
What changes in David's circumstances have made him recognize his "ennui" (boredom), his "meaningless friendships"? Why does the women's "desperation" make David himself feel lonely?
I think now that if I had had any intimation that the self I was going to find would turn out to be only the same self from which I had spent so much time in flight, I would have stayed home. But again, I think I knew, at the very bottom of my heart, exactly what I was doing when I went to France. (1.1.76)
In a very real way, David is more isolated from himself than from anyone else in the novel. What does it mean to be isolated from oneself? For that matter, what does it mean to be searching for oneself or running from oneself? If you're searching for yourself then who are you in the meantime? If you're running from yourself, then where do you put your feet in the starting blocks? How do you know which way to run?
He looked at me and I saw in his face again something which I have fleetingly seen there during these hours: under his beauty and his bravado, terror, and a terrible desire to please; dreadfully moving, and it made me want, in anguish, to reach out and comfort him. (1.3.123)
How can one tell the difference between someone that is outgoing and sincere and someone with a "terrible desire to please"? How does David tell the difference? What does it mean to see something in someone's face? Doesn't that make it seem as if everything happens in a moment? In reality, it's more likely that he has had a hint of Giovanni's anguish for a long time. Why, then, would he just attribute this to a moment?
And it made them furious that the dead center of their lives was, in this instance, none of their business. It made them feel their poverty again, through the narcotics of chatter, and dreams of conquest, and mutual contempt. (2.1.6)
How can the "dead center" of these men's lives be none of their business? Remember that David here assumes that his relationship with Giovanni constituted the dead center of these men's lives. Is this not just an act of egotism? Is David saying something about the men or about himself?
I wrote to Hella, telling her nothing, or I wrote to my father asking for money. 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)
How is David hiding from himself by writing off letters to his father and Hella? Do his father and Hella know anything about David, really? Could they help him if he asked them to? Why doesn't he?
All his movements, even to the lighting of a cigarette, were stealthy, wherever his eyes focused one saw wall rise up. His face, the color of his face, brought to mind darkness and dampness, I felt that if once cut him his flesh would be the flesh of mushrooms. (2.3.43)
David is here describing a man that he once met who had been in prison. As he describes it, the man is still locked inside of his memory; he constantly acts as if he were still in that prison. Note how rich the description is. Is it possible to give a description of someone else's behavior that is this rich and still have it be accurate? What is David's preoccupation with the man? How does David also feel that he is locked in the prison of his memories?
"And do you think I did not know when you made love to me, you made 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)
What does Giovanni mean that David made love to no one? Is it possible to connect with other people if you are not comfortable with yourself? Can you become comfortable with yourself through other people? Given their awful situation, who is hurt more – David or Giovanni?
I was looking for some whisper, or promise, of any possible salvation. But it seemed to me that morning that my ancient self had been dreaming the most dangerous dream of all. (2.4.237)
What do you think "the most dangerous dream of all" is? Our speculation is that it has something to do with being able to escape oneself, with being able to just ignore the parts of oneself that one does not like. Does this fit? Expand on the idea or argue against us.
And these nights were being acted out under a foreign sky, with no-one to watch, no penalties attached – it was this last fact which was our undoing, for nothing is more unbearable, once one has it, than freedom. (1.1.4)
Why does David think that freedom is unbearable? Is it possible to make decisions when one is completely free? Does David prefer to have his decisions taken away from him or does he just want a few more restrictions?
And yet – when one begins to search for the crucial, the definitive moment, the moment which changed all others, one finds oneself pressing, in great pain, through a maze of false signals and abruptly locking doors. (1.1.22)
David is trying to pinpoint the moment where his flight began. Is there ever one "moment which changed all others"? What about David's situation is going to make it especially hard for him to find that moment, if there ever was one?
For I am – or I was – one of those people who pride themselves on their willpower, on their ability to make a decision and carry it through. This virtue, like most virtues, is ambiguity itself. People who believe that they are strong-willed and the masters of their destiny can only continue to believe this by becoming specialists in self-deception. Their decisions are not really decisions at all – a real decision makes one humble, one knows that it is at the mercy of more things than can be named – but elaborate systems of evasion, of illusion, designed to make themselves and the world appear to be what they and the world are not. (1.1.75)
We don't know about you, but David's words – "a real decision makes one humble" – strike us as overwhelmingly true. Yet what about David's particular circumstances makes him hold such a view? Why does he speak in generalities instead of in relation to his own particular situation? How do we choose when we make particular statements and when we make general ones?
"To choose!" cried Giovanni, turning his face away from me and speaking, it appeared, to an invisible ally who had been eavesdropping on this conversation all along. "To choose!" He turned to me again. "Ah, you are really an American. J'adore votre enthousiasme!" (1.2.105)
Why does Giovanni mock David's belief in one's ability to choose? Is it fair for him to associate David's belief with his being an American? Do Americans over-estimate the power they have to choose the fate of their lives? If so, how so? If not, why not?
But I could not be certain, really, that it might not be I who was making a mistake, blindly misreading everything – and out necessities, then, too shameful to be uttered. I was in a box for I could see that, no matter how I turned, the hour of confession was upon me and could scarcely be averted; unless of course, I leaped out of the cab, which would be the most terrible confession of all. (1.3.18)
Reading this passage, we already know what is going to happen. For that reason, David's denial seems paper-thin. Perhaps, though, it is only the fact that things have become clarified in his memory. Perhaps at the time David actually had convinced himself that he didn't want to sleep with Giovanni. Does David have a choice other than going home with Giovanni or getting out of the cab? Is there any choice he could make that would deny or hide the fact that he is attracted to Giovanni?
Those evening were bitter. Giovanni knew that I was going to leave him but he did not dare accuse me for fear of being corroborated. I did not dare tell him. Hella was on her way back from Spain and my father had agreed to send me money, which I was not going to use to help Giovanni, who had done so much to help me. I was going to use it to escape his room. (2.1.4)
In the next quote, when David hears from Hella, he feels as if the "necessity of decision" has been taken from his hands. When does David make his decision to leave Giovanni? Does he ever make it? Why does he conceal the decision from Giovanni? What does he have to gain from waiting? How could he tell him if he were to tell him in the present?
I cannot say that I was frightened. Or, it would be better to say that I did not feel any fear – the way men who are shot do not, I am told, feel any pain for awhile. I felt a certain relief. It seemed that the necessity for decision had been taken from my hands. I told myself that we both had always known, Giovanni and myself, that our idyll could not last forever. (2.2.25)
What are David's choices in his current case? Well, he could stay with Giovanni. Or can he? He could go off and be married happily ever after with Hella. Or can he? He could leave them both and return home. Likely? Is it really possible for David to escape the "necessity for decision"? Hasn't he made a decision even by evading one?
Somewhere, at the very bottom of myself, I realized that I was doing something awful to her and it became a matter of my honor not to let this fact become too obvious. I tried to convey, through this grisly act of love, the intelligence, at least, that it was not her, not her flesh, that I despised – it would not be her I could not face when we became vertical again. (2.2.80)
David has made a choice. His choice is that he will sleep with Sue. Why is he sleeping with Sue? Well, from this passage, it seems like his decision to sleep with Sue has a lot to do with his own sexual repression and self-loathing. But he's already made the choice. Now that he realizes the motivations behind it, does he have a new array of choices before him or is he just stuck with his old decision?
I had hoped that when I saw her something instantaneous, definitive, would have happened to me, something to make me know where I should be and where I was. But nothing happened. I recognized her at once, before she saw me, she was wearing green, her hair was a little shorter, and her face was tan, and she wore the same brilliant smile. I loved her as much as ever and I still did not know how much that was. (2.4.2)
Compare this moment to others where David has to make a big decision. Is there wisdom in David's desire that something "definitive" will happen to him? Is there cowardice? How does he distinguish between when he must make decisions and when decisions are made for him? When does he actually make a decision?
Then something opened in my brain, a secret, noiseless door swung open, frightening me: it had not occurred to me until that instant that, in fleeing from his body, I confirmed and perpetuated his body's power over me. (2.4.228)
What is the choice that David wants to have but does not? Doesn't he want to be able to choose whom he is attracted to? How can he not want to be in love with Giovanni and yet still be in love with him? Since David is in love with Giovanni whether he admits it or not, do his choices even matter?
His smile made me feel a little foolish. "Well," I said, "Paris is old, is many centuries. You feel, in Paris, all the time gone by. That isn't what you feel in New York-" He was smiling. I stopped.
"What do you feel in New York?" he asked.
"Perhaps you feel," I told him, "all the time to come. There's such power there, everything is in such movement. You can't help wondering – I can't help wondering – what it will all be like – many years from now." (1.2.90-92)
What about Paris might make one feel "all the time gone by"? What in New York might make one feel "all the time to come"? How do David's characterizations of America and Europe all describe the difference between him and Giovanni?
" The ocean is very wide," I said. "We have led different lives than you, things have happened to us there which have never happened here. Surely you can understand that this would make us a different people?"
"Ah! If it had only made you a different people!" he laughed. "But it seems to have turned you into another species. You are not, are you, on another planet? For I suppose that would explain everything." (1.2.96-97)
Why do you think that David and Giovanni begin their conversation by talking about the differences between Europeans and Americans? How are they speaking indirectly to each other by describing their countries? Can you find any basis for Giovanni's prejudices against Americans?
"The Americans are funny. You have a funny sense of time – or perhaps you have no sense of time at all, I can't tell. Time always sounds like a parade chez vous – a triumphant parade, like armies with banners entering a town. As though, with enough time, and that would not need to be so very much for Americans, n'est-ce pas?" and he smiled, giving me a mocking look, but I said nothing. "Well then," he continued, "as though with enough time and all that fearful energy and virtue you people have, everything will be settled, solved, put in its place. And when I say everything," he added, grimly, "I mean all the serious, dreadful things, like pain and death and love, in which you Americans do not believe." (1.2.101)
What does Giovanni mean when he says that Americans do not believe in "pain and death and love"? Think ahead to his relationship with David. How do these words come to have a different meaning after their time together comes to an end? Do David's problems with "pain and death and love" have anything to do with his being an American?
I finished my drink. "You people dumped all this merde on us," I said, sullenly, "and now you say we're barbaric because we stink." (1.2.114)
For the record, merde means "crap," essentially Exactly what "merde" might David be referring to? Why does he become sullen while Giovanni is able to keep his good humor throughout the conversation?
I ached abruptly, intolerably, with a longing to go home; not to that hotel, in one of the alleys of Paris, where the concierge barred the way with my unpaid bill; but home, home across the ocean, to things and people I knew and understood; to those things, those places, those people which I would always helplessly, and in whatever bitterness of spirit, love above all else. (1.3.128)
David has these thoughts as he is approaching Les Halles with Giovanni, Guillaume, and Jacques. Why would he be longing to go home at this exact moment? To what extent does his understanding relate to the cultural difference between France and America?
"If your countrymen think that privacy is a crime, so much the worse for your country." (2.1.46)
What does Giovanni mean that Americans think "privacy is a crime"? Is this an accurate characterization of American policies toward gay people in the 1950s? Is something more going on than two men exercising their right to privacy? If so, what?
When Giovanni wanted me to know that he was displeased with me, he said I was a "vrai americain"; conversely, when delighted with me, he said that I was not an American at all; and on both occasions he was striking, deep in me, a nerve which did not throb in him. And I resented this: resented being called an American (and resented resenting it) because it seemed to make me nothing more than that, whatever that was, and I resented being called not an American because it seemed to make me nothing. (2.2.12)
Why does Giovanni constantly harp on the fact that David is an American? Why doesn't David lash back and refer to Giovanni's Italian roots in the same way? If David is not an American, then what is he?
"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, rudenesses, was power and sorrow, both unadmitted, unrealized, the power of inventors, the sorrow of the disconnected" (2.2.13).
After judging the Americans that he sees in Paris, David has this sympathetic moment of realization. To what extent is he describing the Americans that he sees and to what extent is he just describing himself? Why might he hit on the phrase "the power of inventors"? What does this have to do with the fact that they are Americans?
"He waves his hand. 'I said we would not fight any more. The Americans have no sense of doom, none whatever. They do not recognize doom when they see it.' He produced a bottle from beneath the sink" (2.4.218).
Think about American and European history over the last century, specifically the World Wars. What makes Giovanni say that, "Americans have no sense of doom whatever?" How might the fact that America is isolated from the rest of Europe affect Americans' sense of doom?
"'Americans should never come to Europe,' she said, and tried to laugh and began to cry, 'it means they never can be happy again. What's the good of an American who isn't happy? Happiness was all we had.' And she fell forward into my arms, into my arms for the last time, sobbing" (2.5.119).
Why does the fact that Americans believe in their right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" make Hella's statement particularly poignant? Do Americans value happiness more than people from other cultures? Is there anything that they value more? What role does happiness play in American culture?
My face is like a face you have seen many times. My ancestors conquered a continent, pushing across death-laden plains, until they came to an ocean which faced away from Europe into a darker past (1.1.1).
Here, David is introducing himself to the reader. What does he mean that his "face is like a face you have seen many times"? Why do people always have a tendency to compare new faces to the ones that they have seen before? How is David, even in his melodrama, trying to strike up a rapport with the reader?
My mother had been carried to the graveyard when I was five. I scarcely remember her at all, yet she figured in my nightmares, blind with worms, her hair as dry as metal and brittle as a twig, straining to press me against her body; the body so putrescent, so sickening soft, that it opened, as I clawed and cried, into a breach so enormous as to swallow me alive (1.1.24).
Why might David remember his mother in nightmares? Does David remember his mother more as an absence or as a presence? How does he both deny and confirm his mother's death by remembering her as a sickening corpse? What does his memory of her have to do with her? What does it have to do with death?
"Nobody can stay in the garden of Eden," Jacques said. And then: "I wonder why." (1.2.17)
What does Jacques mean by this? How might you characterize David's personal "garden of Eden"? How about Jacques? Why can't they stay in their own personal gardens? If they could, would the story still be a tragedy?
"You are – how old? Twenty-six or –seven? I am nearly twice that and, let me tell you, you are lucky. You are lucky that what is happening to you now is happening now and not when you are forty, or something like that, when there would be no hope for you and you would simply be destroyed." (1.3.66)
Clearly, as Jacques is giving David advice about what to do with Giovanni, he is speaking partially of himself. What is Jacques saying about himself through his advice to David? Why would he "simply be destroyed" if he fell in love when he were older? What would happen to Jacques if he were to meet someone at his age?
"That you must ask yourself," he told me, "and perhaps one day this morning will not be ashes in your mouth." (1.3.89)
The expression "ashes in your mouth" is commonly meant to refer to a bitter memory. Why do you think people describe such a memory as "ashes in your mouth"? Clearly, it relates to it being an unpleasant experience, but push the metaphor further. How does memory relate to sensation – to taste and smell? Why would a regret from the past be compared to ashes? Given what happens, do you think the morning is ashes in David's mouth or not?
I suppose they will come for him early in the morning, perhaps just before dawn, so that the last thing Giovanni will ever see will be that grey, lightless sky over Paris, beneath which we stumbled homeward together so many desperate and drunken mornings. (1.3.198)
OK, let's pick this line apart. First, David does not know where Giovanni is or what is going to happen to him. Yet he imagines Giovanni, on the day of his death, as looking up at the grey sky over Paris. Here he is imagining something in the future. Yet, when his thought falls from the sky back to the ground he is in the past – he is remembering the time that he and Giovanni spent together under that same grey sky. How does memory relate to imagination? Is it possible to have a memory of the future?
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)
When people describe pleasant experiences, they often talk about how time flew. Here, David refers to time flowing. Why might he pick the image of flowing water? What in particular about David and Giovanni's experience in Paris would make it feel like time had been suspended? Hint: Where's Hella? When is she going to return? What are they both denying about the future?
I scarcely know how to describe that room. It became, in a way, every room I had ever been in and every room I find myself in hereafter will remind me of Giovanni's room. (2.1.1)
What role do rooms play in our lives? Why is it easy for us to associate memories with rooms? Why might it help for a memory to be contained within a room? What do all rooms have in common? What separates them? Check out "Setting" for more on this topic.
The newspaper told the unforgiving world how Giovanni repented, cried for mercy, called on God, wept that he had not meant to do it. And 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)
When the newspaper tells "how Giovanni repented, cried for mercy, called on God, wept that he had not meant to do it," it is making a show of presenting everything to the reader. The editors are trying to give the impression that this is the whole story, that it is uncensored, that they are not holding anything back. In effect, the newspapers make a show of giving all the grisly details in order to hide the fact that they are leaving out the most subtle and perhaps the most important details of the story. Is there anything wrong with this? Is this, as Hella says a moment later, the purpose that newspapers are meant to serve? How can David expect them to print what is "too deep for Giovanni to tell"?
They pull him to the door of his cell, the corridor stretches before him like the graveyard of his past, the prison spins around him. (2.5.138)
Here, as David imagines Giovanni going to his death, he refers to "the graveyard of his past." Why might one's past memories seem like graves? Why might one's memories feel particularly like a graveyard as one is headed to one's death? Is David talking about the graveyard of Giovanni's past or the graveyard of his own?
I may be drunk by morning but that will not do any good. I shall take the train to Paris anyway. The train will be the same, the people, struggling for comfort and, even, dignity on the straight-backed, wooden, third-class seats will be the same, and I will be the same. (1.1.2)
What does David mean when he says that everything will be "the same"? Does David want things to stay the same or does he want them to change? Is David afraid of change? What would David have to do to bring about a change in his life?
I was already with Giovanni. I had asked her to marry me before she went away to Spain; and she laughed and I laughed but that, somehow, all the same, made it more serious for me, and I persisted; and then she said she would have to go away and think about it. (1.1.4)
Why do you think that David asked Hella to marry him? Why would the fact that they both laughed make it more serious for him? What was David trying to prove by proposing to Hella?
He did not come to see me. I would have been very happy to see him if he had, but the manner of my leavetaking had begun a constriction which neither of us knew how to arrest. (1.1.20)
Try to come up with some other ways to describe the "constriction" that David says took place between him and Joey. What would he have had to do to overcome the "constriction"? Did he really not know how to arrest it or did he just not want to?
"I don't believe in this nonsense about time. Time is just common, it's like water for a fish. Everybody's in this water, nobody gets out of it, or if he does the same thing happens to him that happens to the fish, he dies. And you know what happens in this water, time? The big fish eat the little fish. That's all. The big fish eat the little fish and the ocean doesn't care." (1.2.103)
Why do you think that Giovanni has such a fatalistic view of things? Do you think that he is a big fish or a little fish? What about David? Is Giovanni hiding something with his cynicism? If so, what is he hiding?
The measure the gram, the centimetre, these people, and they keep piling all the little scraps they save, one on top of the other, year in and year out, all in the stocking or under the bed – and what do they get out of all this measure? A country which is falling to pieces, measure by measure, before their eyes. (1.2.121)
Here is Giovanni's characterization of the French. What does he mean when he accuses the French of trying to measure everything? Is his more than a nice turn of phrase, or is there some truth in it? Forget the French. What is Giovanni saying about himself and his interest in David?
"Tell me," he said, "what is this thing about time? Why is it better to be late than early? People are always saying, we must wait, we must wait. What are they waiting for?" (1.2.134)
Indirectly, what is Giovanni trying to communicate to David. Why do people wait to make decisions? In the story, when is waiting a good thing and when is it a bad thing? How do the characters decide when to wait and when to make instinctual decisions? Given his past, why might Giovanni be particularly opposed to waiting?
"Confusion is a luxury which only the very, very young can possibly afford, and you are not that young any more." (1.2.163)
Is there any truth in Jacques's aphorism? As the story goes on, does it seem that David is taking Jacques's advice or ignoring it?
I ordered black coffee and a cognac, a large one. Giovanni was far from me, drinking marc between an old man who looked like a receptacle of all the world's dirt and disease and a young boy, a redhead, who would look like that man one day, if one could read, in the dullness of his eye, anything so real as a future. (1.3.59)
Here, David is imagining the futures of some of the young boys in the Les Halles neighborhood. Why might he take such a fatalistic view of the boys' lives? What does David's fatalism say about him?
"Maybe everything bad that happens to you makes you weaker," said Giovanni, as though he had not heard me, "and so you can stand less and less." Then, looking up at me, "No. The worst thing happened to me long ago and my life has been awful since that day. You are not going to leave me, are you?" (2.3.23)
Giovanni, like David, has been running from something for a long time. How does the fact that they are trying to conceal something from themselves affect all of their actions? How does it constrain their behavior? If Giovanni's life is "awful" as is, why does he go on with it? What would be the alternative?
I turned and held him in my arms staring above his head at the wall, at the man and woman on the wall who walked together among roses. He was sobbing, it would have been said, as though his heart would break. But I felt that it was my heart which was broken. Something had broken in me to make me so cold and so perfectly still and far away. (2.5.195)
What does David mean when he says that his heart is broken? How is this different than the way that the expression is commonly used? What keeps David from sympathizing with and reaching out to Giovanni?
I repent now – for all the good it does – one particular lie among the many lies I've told, told, lived, and believed. This is the lie which I told to Giovanni, but never succeeded in making him believe, that I had never slept with a boy before. (1.1.6)
Each time that David tells a lie, it seems as if he is trying to hide from his guilt, to avoid it. And yet each lie seems to compound his guilt, to make him feel more guilty instead of less. Is there any way out? Why do you think that he didn't tell Giovanni about Joey?
Ellen spoke of my mother often, saying what a remarkable woman she had been but she made me uncomfortable. I felt that I had no right to be the son of such a mother. (1.1.27)
Why, at such a young age, might David already feel guilty? Is there any way Ellen could know the effect her praise of David's mother would have on David? If David's guilt is irrational does that make it any less valid?
It has come to me that this woman, a peasant from Italy, must resemble, in so many ways, the mother of Giovanni. I keep trying not to hear her howls of anguish, I keep trying not to see in her eyes what would surely be there if she knew that her son would be dead by morning, if she knew what I had done to her son. (1.3.166)
David imagines that the caretaker of his house in the south of France as Giovanni's Giovanni. Before Hella left she yelled at David for loving to be guilty. How is this an instance of David loving to be guilty? How would you describe David's projection of guilt onto the caretaker? Is it sentimental?
When she has gone back across the road, the night will be blacker and longer than ever. I have something to say to her – to her? – but of course it will never be said. I feel that I want to be forgiven, I want her to forgive me. But I do not know how to state my crime. My crime, in some odd way, is in being a man and she knows all about this already. It is terrible how naked she makes me feel, like a half grown boy, naked before his mother. (1.3.188)
Here, David is projecting his guilt onto the caretaker at the house. Who does David actually want to forgive him? Who could actually forgive him? How does the early death of David's mother relate to his feelings of guilt?
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)
Here, Sue is trying to conceal her pain from David by smiling at him. And yet the result is the opposite. Her smile actually makes him feel more guilty; it makes him even more aware of her pain. Why does Sue's effort to conceal her pain elicit this reaction in David? Why would he feel less guilty if she begged and pleaded with him?
And I also felt, standing so close to him, feeling such a passion to keep him from terror, that a decision – once again! – had been taken from my hands. For neither my father, nor Hella, was real at that moment. And yet even this was not as real as my despairing sense that nothing was real for me, nothing would ever be real for me again – unless, indeed, this sensation of falling was reality. (2.3.39)
Is David's "sensation of falling" a part of reality? What does it mean when people say that nothing feels real to them? What does it mean when David says it? What is preventing things from feeling real to him? What would have to change in order for them to feel real again?
No. It would help if I were able to feel guilty. But the end of innocence is also the end of guilt. (2.3.41)
What does David mean that, "the end of innocence is also the end of guilt"? When did his innocence end? How does guilt imply the presumption of innocence, the ultimate desire to be innocent?
I dropped my brick and went to him. In a moment I heard his fall. And at moments like this I felt that were merely enduring and committing the longer and lesser and more perpetual murder. (2.3.100)
How would you describe "the longer and lesser and more perpetual murder"? What does it mean for a murder to be "perpetual"? Does David feel guilty about leaving Giovanni or about not leaving him sooner? Should David feel guilty for these moments of false forgiveness? What would be the alternative?
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)
Here is David's description of the government's reaction after Guillaume is found dead. Essentially what he's talking about is that the government needs a "scapegoat." Why does the fact that Guillaume is gay require the government to find a scapegoat? What is the government trying to hide by casting about for someone to blame?
"Don't shout," said Hella. "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)
Is Hella right that David loves to be guilty? If so, why does he love to be guilty? What would be the alternative to feeling guilty? Is guilt easier?