Study Guide

Giovanni's Room Love

By James Baldwin


The tragedy of Giovanni's Room is inseparable from the fact that it is a love story. The characters in the novel cannot choose whom they love (it just happens), and the result is that they often experience love as a burden. They feel helpless before their love, and thus the people that they love also make them feel helpless. Romantic love gets stirred up with indifference and hatred and jealousy. Let's just say it's not your typical love story. No one lives happily ever after, nor is it clear that all characters want to do so.

Questions About Love

  1. What are some of the different types of love in the book? How does David's love for his father differ from his love for Giovanni, and how does his love for Giovanni differ from his love for Hella?
  2. Is Giovanni right that David doesn't love anyone? Is it possible to love others if you don't love yourself?
  3. What is the relationship between sex and love in the book? Do David's sexual interests follow his romantic ones, or is it the other way around?

Chew on This

Love is a burden for David because it is inseparable from sexual desire. David cannot choose who he is sexually attracted to, so he cannot choose who he loves.

David brings his desire for distance from his father to his relationship with Giovanni. He imagines love as being inseparable from a degree of "merciful distance," and it is Giovanni's failure to recognize this distance that forces David to leave.