“Go Tell It On The Mountain” by James Baldwin

In James Baldwin’s 1952 novel “Go Tell It On The Mountain” the characters in the novel each embark on a spiritual journey. Baldwin has dedicated a chapter to each member of the Grimes family, detailing their trails and tribulations, hopes and aspirations, as each one’s quest to get closer to God becomes a battle. I have chosen the character John because I admire the fierce struggle he endured to find his spirituality. I will examine how he’s embarked on his quest and prove that he has done it with integrity and dignity.

This novel is set in 1935 in Harlem, New York City. A small church congregation comes together for Sunday evening mass. The congregation is made up of close friends and family. The novel is centered around the Grimes family. They go to a Baptist church, “Temple of the Fire Baptized” and it is a very close congregation which every member has a personal bond with one another. This fact, I believe adds to the dynamics of the way they worship and ultimately the way they identify with god.

John Grimes, the eldest son of Gabrial Grimes whom was a former well-respected and dynamic preacher, is in search of answers to his unhappiness. John wants to find his place within the church, define his relationship with god, and wants to flush the dislike he has for his father out. His father favors John’s younger brother Roy over himself. Although Roy is a bad seed and has an impeccable ability for getting into trouble he undoubtedly remains the apple of his father’s eye.

John has been compared to another young man named Elisha, whom is a member of the church. Elisha is a few years older than John and has the respect of all the congregation members because he showed great interest in the church, is saved, and is already a preacher. Many of the congregation felt John would be a great leader of his people some day because of his intelligence. This added pressure consumed him and he knew on his 14th birthday, which was fast approaching, that the expectations to find his place would be great.

In the last chapter of this novel, “The Threshing-Floor”, Baldwin dedicates this chapter to John’s journey to his spirituality. In the opening chapter John describes a feeling of possession as he and his congregation is in pray. Baldwin narrates the events happening to John, “And something moved in John’s body which was not John. He was invaded, set naught, possessed. This power had struck John, in the head or in the heart;”(193) As his mind is taken on this journey he feels like he’s lost mobility.

His body becomes weightless, but he does not want to subdue, he fights to rise up. He does not want to fall, because he feels like it’s a dungeon deeper then hell. In his trace he sees his family all about him and the congregation members. John does what I would do, he looks towards his father for help, when he looks into his face, what he sees is not light, but darkness. There was no warmth or compassion from his father. This is why he felt the way he did towards his father; he loathed him because that is what his father showed him. His feelings of hatred is depicted in this passage narrated by Baldwin,

“Yes, he had sinned: one morning, alone, in the dirt bathroom,
in the square, dirt-gray cupboard room that was filled with the
stink of his father. Sometimes, leaning over the cracked,
“tattle-tale gray” bathtub, he scrubbed his father’s back; and
looked, as the accursed son of Noah had looked, on his father’s
hideous nakedness. It was secret, like sin, and slimy, like the
serpent, and heavy, like the rod. Then he hated his father, and
longed for the power to cut his father down.”(197)

John has sinned many times, when he’s felt this way towards his father. To be saved John must forgive, and then cleanse himself of his sins. He must learn to hate the sin and not the sinner if he wants to be saved. But this was not going to be easy, its one thing to know it but he had to embrace it and live it. Through John’s journey he saw many people trying to get to the river, which I believed represented the place where one will be baptized and reborn. John described the scene as, “All struggled to get to the river, in a dreadful hardness of heart: the strong struck down the weak, the ragged spat on the naked, the naked cursed the blind, the blind crawled over the lame. And someone cried: Sinner, do you love my Lord?”(203-204) John had walked many miles to the river and came face to face with many demons and sins, and atoned for them. Baldwin described it so poetically.

“For his drifting soul was anchored in the love of God;
in the rock that endured forever. The light and the darkness
had kissed each other, and were married now, forever, in
the life and the vision of John’s soul.”(204)

He then heard the voice of Elisha, telling him to come through. He heard the singing of the congregation. Elisha said, “Rise up, rise up, Brother Johnny, and talk about the Lord’s deliverance”(205) John has been saved and exaltedly claimed, “Lord, I been introduced to the Father, and the Son, and I ain’t no stranger now!”(206)

John’s quest to be closer to God was phenomenal. I too have had a rocky relationship with my father and like John has had to fight the demons caused by that relationship and atoned for them. It is very important to practice forgiveness. I believe that John has done that. Hatred is a heavy burden to bare, and lead to destruction. I believe through his newfound relationship with God, he will forgive then rebuild his relationship with his father. And has proven to me that he’s embarked on his quest with integrity and dignity.

Hamlet and Go Tell it on the Mountain: Compare

Claudius and Gabriel are very similar, as they are very different people. Claudius and Gabriel share the characteristic that both regret what they do. Gabriel doesn’t actually get down on his knees and pray like Claudius does, the reader could tell though, that Gabriel is having some great problems with the way he is. His personality interferes with his daily life. He hates white people yet he is a preacher, a teacher of God. Gabriel does other things throughout the book that make other characters in the book wonder if Gabriel really wants to be a preacher, if Gabriel really can handle the responsibilities, any longer, that are needed to be a preacher. Claudius killed his own brother. His actions have basically ruined his life. The way he thinks and handles things aren’t the most productive and at times aren’t very bright.

Gabriel has many problems with his life. At times, he can’t really control his thoughts and his actions. He is a very confused person as well. He does so many things throughout the book that make it seem as if he doesn’t care about anyone or anything and just does what ever he wants to do, with out any boundaries being drawn to what he could do. He had sex with a women that was not his wife, while he was married!! How can a preacher do such a thing. It was against Gods Commandments but he did it anyway. Does he regret what he does? Probably. He thinks to himself and maybe prays to God asking him for his forgiveness and help to stop him from being such a person. If something came up like to have sex with another women other than his wife, he would probably go ahead and have sex without thinking to much about it. Gabriel is also a very selfish person. He does things that he wants to do. Gabriel doesn’t sacrifice anything for anyone. If he feels like having sex with another women, he goes ahead and does it. He doesn’t think about Deborah’s thoughts, about Gods thoughts or about anyone else’s thoughts. Does he even love Deborah? There was a part of the book where Gabriel was thinking to himself and he talks about how he hates Deborah. The following is that same part.

“Deborah turned to look at them, and at that moment Gabriel saw, as though for the first time, how black and bony was this wife of his, and how wholly undesirable. Deborah looked at him with a watchful silence in her look; he felt the hand that held his Bible begin to sweat and tremble; he thought of the joyless groaning of their marriage bed; and he hated her.” (pg 118)

What’s wrong with Gabriel? Does he actually love Deborah as his wife? Does he regret for hating Deborah? Does he really want to be a preacher? Does he even regret what he did, in terms of cheating on Deborah or treating John as he does?

Claudius also didn’t have a very delightful life. He murders his own brother to become king and to marry Gertrude, the queen. Did Claudius think about what he was doing? I don’t think so. He didn’t consider Gertrude’s thoughts, Hamlets thoughts or anyone else’s thoughts. He just went ahead and killed him because of his own selfishness. After he commits this crime he then realizes what he has done. He then regrets what he did to his own brother. The difference between Hamlet and Go Tell it on the Mountain is that, they actually show the reader that Claudius regrets what he did, by making Claudius say a prayer to God asking for forgiveness. There are small parts in the book that show that Gabriel does care about what he did. The following quote is one of the few parts where Gabriel wants God’s forgiveness.

“Gabriel,” she asked, “why did you do it?Why you let her go off and die, all by herself? Why ain’t you never said nothing?”

And now he could not answer. He could not raise his head.

“Why?” she insisted. “Honey, I ain’t never asked you. But I got a right to know-and when you wanted a son so bad?”

Then, shaking, he rose from the table and walked slowly to the window, looking out.

“I asked my God to forgive me,” he said. “But I didn’t want no harlot’s son.”

“Esther weren’t no harlot,” she said quietly…………….

“Honey,” she said, in another, stronger voice, “you better pray God to forgive. You better not let go until He make you know you been forgiven.” (pg 148-149)

Its a shame we don’t get to see Gabriel pray to God for forgiveness for what he has done in the book because it would tell the reader that Gabriel does care and realizes that what he has done is wrong. See the similarities between Claudius and Gabriel. They both are selfishness in different ways. Claudius only thinks about himself and Gabriel doesn’t think about anyone else’s opinions on the actions he does, so he is selfish in the sense that he thinks about himself and about what he wants not about what others think and about what others would want him to do and not to do There aren’t very many differences between the two people.

Gabriel is a kind of person who is very confused and needs help to getting back into what is reality. He isn’t really concentrating on the life he has now but he is co ncentrating more on the kind of life that he really wants. I was able to tell that Gabriel didn’t really love Deborah. The reader could realize or question if Gabriel really wanted to be a preacher any longer. Claudius isn’t as confused. He knows exactly what he is doing and he knows exactly what he wants.

I noticed that later in the book of Hamlet, Claudius realized that what he did wasn’t really what he wanted to do. He regrets and asks for forgiveness for what he has done. He knew what he was going to do but wasn’t exactly sure that he wanted to do what he did, which was kill King Hamlet. Another difference was that Gabriel seemed to be a more religious person, considering he is a preacher, than Claudius was. The following selection is just a part when Gabriel is praying to God. It is just to show you how religious Gabriel is.

“He fasted on his knees before God and did not cease, daily and nightly, to pray that God might work through him a mighty work and cause all men to see that, indeed, God’s hand was on him, that he was the Lord’s anointed.” (pg 101)

Claudius was a king and seemed to be not to much of a religious person. There are differences but not as many as there are similarities.

In conclusion, Gabriel and Claudius do have some similarities as well has differences. Some of the similarities that Gabriel and Claudius have are that both are selfish in their own way. Gabriel had sex with another women because Deborah wasn’t “good enough.” He didn’t think about Deborah’s feelings if she ever did find out about Gabriel cheating on her but instead thought about his own feelings and his own desires. Claudius is selfish in the sense that he kills his own brother to become king and to marry Gertrude. He cared more about being king and marrying a “beautiful” women than having his own brother live.

Gabriel and Claudius also have differences. One of the obvious differences is that one is a preacher and the other is a king. Another difference is that Claudius had all his things together, he knew what he was doing and knew what he wanted. Gabriel on the other hand was little more confused and didn’t really have things together, or didn’t really have things the way they should be. He couldn’t control his emotions and couldn’t control most of his actions. I enjoyed reading both books, though I thought Hamlet was a good book to read just because it was different. A kind of book I had never read before.