Study Guide

Go Tell It on the Mountain Narrator Point of View

By James Baldwin

Narrator Point of View

Third Person (Omniscient)

This narrator knows everything, and that means that we readers do too. Not only do we get to see everything that happens in the novel, we also get to travel back in time by reading the thoughts of each character. The power is heady, yes, but shifting between characters' heads and between the South and the North and back and forth in time is bumpy. Fasten your seatbelts.

Just look at the time-warp action in Elizabeth's memory. She starts by remembering the day Gabriel asked her to marry him:

"Sister Elizabeth," he said—and she would carry to the grave the memory of his grace and humility at that moment, "will you pray?"

"Yes," she said. "I been praying. I'm going to pray."

They had entered this church, these doors [...] (2.3.263-64)

From there she floats even further back in time to "that far-off day when John had come into the world—that moment, the beginning of her life and death" (2.3.266). And then, hold on tight, we're back to the present: "As now, in the sudden silence, she heard him cry: not the cry of the child, newborn, before the common light of the earth; but the cry of the man-child, bestial, before the light that comes down from Heaven" (2.3.267). Time collapses, telescoping in and out.

This narrator uses the omniscience thing to the max to give us each character's personal history and let us understand where they're coming from. We recommend waiting until the narration comes to a complete stop before you try to put the book down… we don't want you to get literary whiplash.