Study Guide

Giovanni's Room Sexuality and Sexual Identity

By James Baldwin

Sexuality and Sexual Identity

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?