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During the 1950s homosexuality was illegal it was, as Oscar Wilde considered, “the love that dare not speak its name.” Being homosexual evoked fear of contamination of self and society. For instance, a novel written by James Baldwin, “Giovanni’s Room”, is based on a young American man, David, and his dilemma in the loss of his sexual identity and desire. During a homosexual encounter with Joey, David perceived this act as a loss of manhood and felt ashamed for not fulfilling the expectations his father had for him. In his leave to America to find his true identity, David ends up being attracted to another man named Giovanni, a bartender.
Yet, David attempts to conceal the fact that he’s becoming homosexual by deceiving himself and others surrounding him that he’s heterosexual and women are his only desire. Despite that, it is difficult to operate in a way, you are not, causing you to deviate from your surroundings and not have a sense of self. Frequently, people tend to be tough in the outside but soft in the inside. For instance, people in the outside are impacted by the perspective of society so they tend to wear a mask, to hide who they truly are in the inside. Therefore, James Baldwin use of symbolism in “Giovanni’s Room” was able to depict how homosexuality caused David to explore his sexual identity yet he encountered numerous situations such as a loss of self- confidence, social anxiety and the desire to escape homosexuality, Giovanni’s room. David denies to accept himself as homosexual, he struggles believing himself being a “man” as his father expects him to be.
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During David’s homosexual encounter with Joey, he felt ashamed of himself and the fact he couldn’t meet the expectations his father had for him: a hardworking tough man. “The vision I gave my father of my life was exactly the vision in which I myself most desperately needed to believe (20).” However, believing that his homosexuality holds him back from possessing manly qualities, David decides to “allow no room in the universe for something which shamed and frightened” (20) him. Baldwin uses the nightmare of David’s dead mother to represent David’s inability to embrace homosexuality as a part of his true identity. The figure of David’s dead mother has become a nightmare for David. He is intimidated to express his homosexual identity feeling that she’s always present and watching him.
However, during David’s conversation with the landlady regarding David’s future as a man triggered David to link the landlady to his mother. “ I have something to say to her- to her ?- but of course it will never be said. I feel that I wanted to be forgiven; I want her to forgive me. But I do not know how to state my crime. My crime, in some odd way, is in being a man and she knows all about this already. (70)” Baldwin demonstrates David declaring his homosexuality as a crime and wished he could’ve been forgiven however not really by the landlady but by his mother. Symbolizing the landlady to David’s mother reinforced David’s feels of guilt stating that “she knows all about this already” to depict the fact David senses his mother’s presence and she’s always inspecting him. Baldwin demystified Giovanni’s room by symbolizing Giovanni’s life, displays the homosexual relationship between Giovanni and David. Giovanni’s room as David described, “ One of the walls was a dirty, streaked white where he had torn off the wallpaper.(86)” “The table was loaded with yellowing newspapers and empty bottles and it held a single brown and wrinkled potato in which even the sprouting eyes were rotten. (87)”.
David knows the fact he was brought in the room was to change the life Giovanni has been living under. He knew in order for him to transform Giovanni, he “must first become a part of Giovanni’s room. (88)” That room was the only place he would have expressed his true identity, homosexual, and doesn’t have to pretend anymore. Yet, he became aware that homosexuality was a prison he can’t escape from no matter how much he tries. The desire of wanting to leave the room has increased as David began to view the room small, dirty, suffocated, isolated and depressed. Furthermore, David also linked Giovanni’s room to his jail cell. When Giovanni is in jail, David wondered about Giovanni’s cell, “I wonder about the size of Giovanni’s cell. I wonder if it is bigger than his room. (113)” In David’s reflection, he describes Giovanni’s room as a prison where the individuals that are stuck there are the prisoners referring to himself and Giovanni. Meanwhile, it frightens David the fact he’s in love with a man and not a woman as everyone expects from him. This causes David to feel disappointed that he couldn’t change and became the man his father wanted him to be.
In addition, through the use of metaphors or symbolism, Baldwin was able to emphasize how societies negative interpretations of masculinity and homosexuality had affected David’s loss of identity and led him to feel social anxiety. To illustrate, Giovanni’s room is the place where it portrays the homosexual relationship between Giovanni and David. Nevertheless, the location of the room as David recounts was “ passed the vestibule and the elevator into a short, dark corridor which led to his room. (63)” Since David moved into Giovanni’s room, Giovanni wanted “To ensure privacy” so he “had obscured the window panes with a heavy, white cleaning polish. (85)” to make sure they weren’t seen when they committed a love act. In any case, sometimes children play outside Giovanni’s room window making strange shapes loomed against it. “At such moments, Giovanni, working in the room, or lying in the bed, would stiffen like a hunting dog and remain perfectly silent until whatever seemed threaten our safety had moved away. (86)” This elucidates the negative perspectives homosexuality are perceived in the outside world as being restricted, dirty and contamination. David says that “People have very dirty words for this situation.
Beside, it is a crime- in my country….(81)” Due to social influences, David couldn’t freely express his sexual identity. He had to act masculine to satisfy those who are around him. He had to act like he has a fiance Hale and he lives the life of manhood and he would make a family in the future just like what males normal do in society. Outside, Giovanni’s room, David is a different person, he is not who he truly is, but wants to conform with those around him. However, an incident David encounter was Baldwin uses David to show the power of love and human connection in society, along with the negative effect socially defined roles can have on individuals development.
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