Go Tell it in the Mountain Novel
“In Go Tell It in the Mountain John his raised in the tradition of the Christian church. This tradition pits a Johns desire against duty. In keeping with most Christian doctrines many of the followers of the faith in the bible believe that the body is the site within which the spirit can be dramatically transformed. The church and church authorities therefore place strict rules on how men and women dress and forbid what the church consider the sin or pleasures of the flesh and body. Some of these sins include smoking, drinking, and illicit sex. These rules are rooted in the church philosophy that the penultimate Christian experience is a “warming of the heart by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit” (Allen). While the church and church authorities portray these as sinful and evil many of these so-called sins give many people pleasure and nearly of all these people are good law biding people, not evil. This extinctual crisis leads many of the characters to challenge the idea that church doctrine is correct, and an individual can participate in these sinful acts and still be a good person and these so-called righteous people can follow church doctrine and be terrible people.
In Go Tell it on the Mountain the church and the authority derived from its scripture from the bible is used to repress many characters in the novel. Early in Go Tell It on the Mountain young John Grimes sits by a window from cleaning his family’s living room in preparation for Sunday morning. Watching the boys in the street playing is compared to the freedom denied to him in the in the strict Christian morality of his home “He wanted to be one of them, playing in the streets, frightened, moving with such grace and power, but he knew this could not be. Yet, if he could not play their games, he could do something they could not do; he was able, as one of his teachers said, to think. But this brought him little consolation, for today he was terrified of his thoughts. He wanted to be with these boys in the street, heedless and thoughtless, wearing out his treacherous and bewildering body” (Perkins). As John imagines playing in the street instead of doing his chores in his home the boys represent an escape from his Christian duties. However, their “graceful bodies” awakening his homoerotic desire. John’s longing signifies his need to “escape not only the church but also the implications of an illicit desire he cannot control that directly go against the teachings of the church” (O’Neale). As same sex relationships are against the teachings of the bible. This passage illustrates several tensions in the novel particularly the tension between the social demand that desire be controlled and the individual’s need to express desire that comes unbidden and is uncontrollable.
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John is 14 at the time of the novel and is in the full swing of hormonal puberty. Bewildered by his “”treacherous body and all of the changes that he is going through, many things become sexual images” (Waitinas). One example is early in the novel a stain on the ceiling above his bed suddenly takes on the shape of a naked woman. Shortly after that incident he later masturbates in the school bathroom while thinking of older boys and has “watched in himself a transformation of which he could never speak” (Waitinas). Even his friend Elisha becomes a figure of John secret desires. While John is in Sunday school morning lessons has a difficult time concentrating on the lesson because he is distracted by the physical perfection of the older boy whom John believes to be “tall and handsome” and by the sound of his voice which is “manlier than his own”. John admires Elisha for his physical body as much as he adores him for character. “Although John’s feelings could belong to a young heterosexual boy in puberty it also possible that John’s emerging feelings of homosexuality as subtle subtext that is never directly confronted but that is woven into the story” (Waitinas). The novel itself does not state directly whether John is gay but there are many instances in the novel to suggest that he may be gay or at least bi sexual. One example is on the morning of his birthday John’s thoughts turn to his sin of masturbating while thinking of the older boys. Additionally, to the anonymous boys whom John masturbates in the school bathroom there seems to be one person whom John has a special affinity for Elisha. In the novel John describes rather lustfully the physical appearance, voice, and strength of Elisha. The novel eroticizes Johns feelings for Elisha in the describing Johns lustful feelings while in church when he feels himself overcome by the apparent power of God. “John’s head is thrown back, eyes closed, sweat standing on his brow . . . he stiffened and cried out . . . It seemed that he could not breathe, that his body could not contain this passion . . . until he dropped . . . moaning, on his face””(Perkins). This description of an out of body experience involving God could be a comparison to a sexual awaking of repressed feelings. John’s view of Elisha during this incident is more sexual than spiritual. It however does not prove definitively that John is homosexual. Earlier in the novel john watched a couple have sex while in an abandoned building. Then later in the novel John looks at Ella Mae in a less than saintly manner when she and Elisha were called before the congregation for “walking disorderly”. These instances contribute to john’s struggle with his budding sexuality whether he sees himself as homosexual or heterosexual. This struggle is shared by many people during this time in their lives however many people can vent and talk about their feelings in a healthy and constructive way. This is an outlet for johns’ emotions is missing from his life this leaves him by himself to find out who he is and to be comfortable in his own body and in his life.
The importance of The Church of the Fire Baptized in the novel cannot be overstated. The church acts as a moral anchor for its members and promises them the riches of heaven when they die, and their immortal soul leaves the earth only if they act in accordance with church doctrine. The church provides patrons with a community which people can find support, guidance and share their troubles and hopefully find help whether it be for emotional reasons or financial. It is also a place to share their happiness with like-minded people. The church establishes moral guidelines and members are expected to live by them if they want to see the rewards of the hereafter. The church teaches its members Christian morality and discourages destructive behavior. The church is also a place for people to release repressed emotions and energy. As violent behavior such as murder is not a socially acceptable way by to cope with anger and frustration. The church allows the patrons to “Releasing those passions in church through singing, shouting, and clapping gives an acceptable release of pent-up emotion. Energy that could have turned into violence is expressed through prayer” (O’Neale). However, there are drawbacks in The Church of the Fire Baptized. Its members are rigid in their way of thinking and are very judgmental in their views of others. Particularly in their views of people you give in to the desires they deem immoral. To separate themselves from the riff raff the members of the church are called “”saints.”” If they are the saints, the sinners appear to be everyone but themselves. Attending church fills these so-called saints with a feeling of moral supremacy. In the novel it seems there is a contest to see who is the most holy and the most faithful in the church. Sister McCandles says of John, “”This boy going to make it to the Kingdom before any of them as if salvation is some kind of footrace where the winner gets a little trophy at the end” (Perkins).
There are significant implications in the church the Grimes family attends. In that the church is a storefront church. It is significant because it is not a true church it is a storefront used as a church this is an example of the hypocrisy of church policies. While a church can be any building or place where people come together to worship but the fact “the edifice in which the saints gather was not originally intended to be a church gives the reader a clue to the social status of the characters” (Allen). The storefront church is used by and represents the repression of church doctrine of the poor and of a lower social class in the local African American community. The grand churches in the white part of the city are reserved for those who have more money, social status and white church goers. Gabriel has his first taste of church hypocrisy during the banquet following the Twenty-Four Elders revival meeting. The ministers are apparently the messengers of God. These have men forsaken worldly pleasures in order to serve God and the community at large. But as Gabriel fins out that they are not what they seem. “Gabriel finds them too well dressed and too well fed and full of themselves than they are of the holy spirit” (Allen). Later in the novel these men of mock Deborah and ridicule her rape. Of course, Gabriel is not the model Christian either. He is a violent man who beats his wife and children. He has had an affair and has stolen money from his wife to keep his mistress a secret ultimately. He dismissed his own affair with Ester as forgiven but refuses to allow Elizabeth the same courtesy. Ultimately, he is a very big hypocrite and a prime example of how church doctrine can be twisted to fit ones needs. It is not surprising that the young John feels some ambivalence toward the church when the reality of the institution varies so widely from the ideal.
Overall Go Tell it on the Mountain dives into the hypocrisy of the church and church leaders. The hypocrisy that since a person or group accepts church doctrine, they are therefore morally superior to those who give into their desires that go against church doctrines. But as the novel demonstrates the people who subscribe to the church themselves have committed theses so called sins and continue to do so in some cases. Leading to many of these people leading a miserable life while the ones who participate in their sinful desires lead happy and joyful lives. In the end Go Tell it on the Mountain asks the question of whether people should put there faith in a doctrine or system that can be hypocritical and lead to miserable lives in an effort to suppress desire or should people give in to their desires and live their life or the third option give into the church doctrine but live a secret life .”