Saturday, November 20, 2010

Not on bread alone

Current book: Go Tell It on the Mountain
Pages read: 166 - 253 (end)

I actually read yesterday and simply didn't have the time or energy to update. I also made bread and completely screwed up the first batch of dough. Ruining dough is not good for one's analytical skills. (I believe that I mismeasured my liquids through haste and inattention. I'm here to provide cautionary baking tales for you, ladies and gentlemen.) That said, even though I got nervous and stressed out about the second batch and possible under-kneaded it, it still came out well, and I made absolutely delicious Monte Cristos with it for supper. French toast with homemade bread and cream in the custard, covered with ham and Swiss cheese? A-OK.

Deborah, apparently, just kind of got sick and died, but not before she found out about Gabriel's child out of wedlock. Anyway, after the conclusion of his story, we get Elizabeth's. She came to New York with her fiance, Richard, who was a nice young man she met back at home. They planned to get married in New York once he had enough money, but, times being what they were, it never happened. Elizabeth got pregnant, but before she could tell Richard, he was arrested on bogus charges by the police, and, after being exonerated at trial but also beaten and humiliated, he killed himself. This, of course, left Elizabeth as a single mother. Her friend, Florence, however, introduced her to Gabriel when he came up to New York, and, eventually, they married. That means, though, that John is Richard and Elizabeth's bastard son, not Gabriel's.

As Elizabeth's story concludes, Baldwin returns us to John's perspective. He falls into a religious reverie during the prayer service, and, after spending all night wrestling with his hatred of his father and his faith in God, is "saved" as the sun rises in the morning. At the close of the novel, John hopes that he can stay saved despite temptation (a hope that he expresses to another congregant, Elisha, in a vaguely homoerotic way) and Florence threatens to tell John the truth in front of Gabriel. The last line of the book consists of John telling his mother, "I'm coming. I'm on my way." It could mean that he's on his way to becoming a religious man and living his life well, or that he's on his way to the destruction inherent in the black condition in America.

I've pretty much maintained my impressions from the first two-thirds. Baldwin is portraying a lot of the negative aspects of religion - the controlling nature, the false hope, the hypocrisy - but he's also giving it some credit for providing an alternative to alcohol and crime as a way to survive. I don't know what to make of John's revelation at the end. He's able to face his father, unfaltering and unblinking, as a result, but at the same time, the ending line seems fairly ominous to me. I'm inclined to come down on the side of pessimism for this one and say that it's pointing to the fact that he's going to come to the same grief that all the other characters have come to, or something similar to it, at least. After all, what waits for him, as a young black man, but poverty and discrimination?

Henry James next. Oh, Henry, I know that I will be incredibly annoyed by your ridiculously complex sentences and your tendency toward unnecessary double negatives. So we meet again.

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