Giovanni Must Die James Baldwin Analysis

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Giovanni Must Die: James Baldwin and Trends of the 1950s Gay Cannon James Baldwin’s literary masterpiece, Giovanni’s Room, fits the formulas of queer pulp fiction found predominantly in the 1940’s to 1960’s. Since the topic of homosexuality was then considered taboo and widely unacceptable by the government, publishers were hesitant to back works about the topic, but nonetheless understood the financial potential of cornering the queer market. In order to corner the queer market but not endorse positive portrayals of homosexuality, publishing houses began publishing queer fiction, but forced authors to conclude stories tragically. Formulaically, one, or both, of the members of a queer couple would die by the end of the story, and the surviving…show more content…
Queer historian Michael Bronski, in surveying 1950s gay fiction, proclaimed that works of classic gay literature “were epitomized by self-hatred and ended in suicide, murder, or some other form of death” (Bronski 16). Generally, works published previous to the rise of gay liberation in the sixties, with notable exceptions such as Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt and the works of Ann Bannon, follow this formula. Publishing did not create these negative and hopeless portrayals alone. Homosexuality had been portrayed negatively since the term’s coining in the late eighteenth century, as sexuality only became categorized through the field of criminology, hence the persistent stereotype that homosexuals are immoral. There is also the truth that member of the queer community are more likely to experience violence, poverty, and mental illness as a result of discrimination they face, and therefore the darkness of 1950s queer literature could be seen as merely documenting the difficult lives queer individuals faced. Regardless of a work’s portrayal of homosexuality, publishing works with explicitly queer characters was difficult, even for established…show more content…
Furthermore, Giovanni’s death acts as a plot and character convenience that allows David to quarantine love to the past. James Baldwin follows all of the morality rules demanded from popular queer fiction of the 1950s, but what sets the story apart is how the plot arrives at Giovanni’s death. Instead of being dissuaded from exploring and acknowledging his sexuality because of fear and cautionary warning, David is left incapable to love at the end because he can’t imagine loving anybody with the intensity he loved Giovanni. However, David does continues to struggle with his sexuality throughout the final page of the novel, and the death of Giovanni does not allow David to put this issue behind him. Perhaps the greatest statement Baldwin could have made with Giovanni’s Room would be to tell us anything of David’s life after Giovanni’s death, but tastefully and cautiously, he instead refrains. Baldwin leaves David forever framed by a relationship that was never allowed to flourish, which perhaps tells readers the haunting effects of internalized and outside homophobia more than anything
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