Study Guide

The Caretaker in Giovanni's Room

By James Baldwin

The Caretaker

The caretaker of David's house in the south of France is an old Italian woman who lost two of her three sons in the war. She lives with her husband and enjoys seeing the family of her one remaining son and her grandchildren.

She comes to do the inspection before David moves out. She notes that she has not seem him leave the house for several days, and makes it clear that she has asked after him around town. David tries to be elusive, but he lets on that Hella has left him and that he is alone. The caretaker takes great pity on him, and encourages him to pray and to try to find another woman to take Hella's place.

Yet she can't understand all of his inner turmoil because she doesn't know about Giovanni. At one point, David thinks that she must closely resemble the Italian mother of Giovanni, and he says, "I keep trying not 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 projects his grief onto her, and what is already an emotionally tense moment becomes even more difficult for him to bear.

Though David longs for the moment when the caretaker will finish her inspection and leave, when that moment comes, he wants her to stay. He imagines that there is a great deal of understanding between them and as she prepares to go he thinks,

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)