Study Guide

Giovanni's Room Passivity

By James Baldwin


As David tells the story, it is sometimes hard to tell where the key moments of change were in his relationship with Giovanni. At many of the most obvious points – when the two of them first sleep together, when David agrees to marry Hella, when he goes to leave Giovanni – he claims that he had little or no control over his actions; things just happened, and there was nothing that he could do about it. Such a claim is very suspicious, and we have to read between the lines to try to discern when David's fatalism is valid and when it is just melodrama.

Questions About Passivity

  1. What are Giovanni and David trying to hide with their cynicism and their sense of fatalism?
  2. Is David's re-telling of events from his house in the south of France another case of passivity? Or is David trying to change something by telling the story to himself, to take an active role in the tragedy that is his life?
  3. What is the relationship between passivity and emotion? Is passivity just a failure to act or is it related to certain emotional states that make it impossible to act?
  4. How is Giovanni's constant need to move forward itself a form of passivity? What is the role of inertia in the story?

Chew on This

Giovanni's need to rush into relationships and to be in a constant state of activity is his own twist on passivity; he wants to ignore the fact that what he needs to do is reconcile himself to what happened to his child.

Though David claims to feel responsible for Giovanni's death, he selectively portrays events to make it seem as if he had no control over what happened; at the moments where he was passive, he claims that it was impossible for him to act.

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