Study Guide

Giovanni's Room Guilt and Blame

By James Baldwin

Guilt and Blame

Giovanni's Room is told in the past tense. A few pages in we already know how the story ends, and the novel is pervaded by the knowledge that it is too late to do anything. David, even by recounting events, is punishing himself, retracing his role in Giovanni's tragedy. The entire narrative is entwined with his guilt, and throughout David is trying to understand exactly why he feels guilty and whether or not there is a way out.

Questions About Guilt and Blame

  1. When does David first begin to feel guilty and why?
  2. What is the relationship between guilt and responsibility in the novel? Who is responsible for the tragedy? Who feels guilty?
  3. After Giovanni is convicted, to what extent is David's guilt real and justified, and to what extent is it sentimental and imagined?
  4. What is the relationship between guilt and blame? How does David's guilt relate to the media's need to find a scapegoat for Guillaume's murder? How does David make himself a scapegoat and why?

Chew on This

David's guilt originates in the fact that he feels unworthy of the love of other people. Yet, because he cannot admit this to himself, his guilt is a feeling without a cause; it casts about for false ways to justify itself.

David feels guilty because he wants to feel responsible. His guilt becomes most intense when there is nothing that he can do, and it's a way of attempting to gain power in a situation where he feels helpless.