Thursday, November 18, 2010

Come to Jesus

Current book: Go Tell It on the Mountain
Pages read: 90 - 166

Continuing with Florence's story, we learn that she moved to New York, married a deadbeat drunkard who left her ten years later, and has since been single. After Florence gets done with the prayer that reveals all this to the audience, it's Gabriel's turn to give us his life story (not that it's being written in the first person, which I feel like I'm implying).

After his sister left, Gabriel became a hoodlum, drinking and screwing around with the local girls, until one day, after leaving his lover's bed, he experienced a religious epiphany under a tree. It was your classic "pray for forgiveness and be welcomed into the bosom of the lord" kind of thing. So Gabriel became a preacher, and quite a popular one, well known for his fire and brimstone. Florence's friend, Deborah, who had been raped as a young teenager and since devoted herself to prayer and chastity, greatly admired Gabriel. Eventually, as a result of a message from God, Gabriel married her. It wasn't long before he cheated on her with another local girl called Esther, who got pregnant and gave birth (having moved to Chicago at that point) to his first son, Royal. Esther later died, and Royal, too, and Gabriel was left with his guilt and Deborah. We don't yet have information on how Deborah died and Gabriel married his current wife, Elizabeth, but I'm sure we will soon.

It continues to be pretty interesting and rely heavily on character development, but there's also a lot of discussion of both race and religion. When Florence is arguing with her husband, Frank, about his tendency to spend their money on alcohol, she says that they'll never be able to save up to move away from "all these niggers," if he keeps wasting it. He replies that she'll never be able to "get away from niggers." This part sort of knocked me back a little, just because of the implication that Florence regards all the members of her race as a bad element in society. That's not true, of course but she's clearly conflating race and class; frankly, it seems impossible not to in the time period she's a part of. She wants to get away from poverty, violence, and alcoholism, and all she's ever seen in the black community are situations that enforce those conditions. Baldwin's point, then, that self-hatred can stem from the conditions imposed by society, is well made and well taken. (Also, "nigger" is just never an easy word. Ever.)

As far as religion goes, the message is still a mixed one. Clearly, not everything about religion is bad, since it changes Gabriel from a hoodlum into a productive member of society. It's not, however, fixing all his problems, what with the adulterous relationship and bastard child. Gabriel thinks, at one point, that his "brothers and sisters" are losing themselves in worshiping golden idols in the form of jazz and blues clubs, which is also an interesting point from Baldwin, given the fact that the black identity in America at the time was so heavily defined by music. I still need more time to see where he's going with that.

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