Study Guide

Giovanni's Room Love

By James Baldwin


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?