Giovanni’s Room

by

James Baldwin

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David Character Analysis

The narrator and protagonist of Giovanni’s Room, David is a man in his mid-20s living in Paris. A handsome blonde American, he stands out in Paris as desirable and innocent, though the gay men he spends time with sense that he isn’t strictly heterosexual, despite what he says. This dynamic is central to David’s entire personality, as he struggles to convince himself that he isn’t gay or bisexual. This issue reaches all the way back to when he was a teenager and became physically intimate with his childhood friend, Joey. However, David stops seeing Joey because he doesn’t want to disappoint his father. Because David’s mother died when he was only five, he’s especially eager to please his father, though he has a strained relationship with him and his aunt Ellen, who also cares for him. After a stint in the Army, he decides to move to Paris, where he meets and proposes to Hella, a young American woman who decides to consider his offer while traveling by herself in Spain. Meanwhile, David manipulates his relationship with an older gay man named Jacques, who gives him money. While having drinks with Jacques one night, David meets Giovanni and falls in love. Though David resists the relationship at first, he can’t deny his feelings and moves into Giovanni’s room. The two become a couple and develop a regular routine together. However, he leaves Giovanni without a word when Hella returns to Paris, unable to commit himself to a long-term relationship with a man. Devastated, Giovanni goes down a reckless path and eventually kills Guillaume, his former employer who fired him because he was jealous of his relationship with David. After Giovanni is arrested, David moves with Hella to the South of France, trying to pretend that he wants to get married and have kids. When he hears that Giovanni will soon be executed for Guillaume’s murder, though, he sneaks out of the house and spends three days drinking and having sex with a sailor. Hella finally catches him on the third day and promptly returns to the United States, leaving him alone with his guilt as he thinks about Giovanni’s impending execution.

David Quotes in Giovanni’s Room

The Giovanni’s Room quotes below are all either spoken by David or refer to David. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Gardners Books edition of Giovanni’s Room published in 2001.
Part 1: Chapter 1 Quotes

And these nights were being acted out under a foreign sky, with no-one to watch, no penalties attached—it was this last fact which was our undoing, for nothing is more unbearable, once one has it, than free­dom. I suppose this was why I asked her to marry me: to give myself something to be moored to. Perhaps this was why, in Spain, she decided that she wanted to marry me. But people can’t, unhappily, invent their mooring posts, their lovers and their friends, anymore than they can invent their parents. Life gives these and also takes them away and the great difficulty is to say Yes to life.

Related Characters: David (speaker), Giovanni, Hella
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

I was ashamed. The very bed, in its sweet dis­order, testified to vileness. I wondered what Joey’s mother would say when she saw the sheets. Then I thought of my father, who had no one in the world but me, my mother having died when I was little. A cavern opened in my mind, black, full of rumor, suggestion, of half-heard, half-forgotten, half-understood stories, full of dirty words. I thought I saw my future in that cavern. I was afraid. I could have cried, cried for shame and terror, cried for not under­ standing how this could have happened to me, how this could have happened in me. And I made my decision.

Related Characters: David (speaker), Giovanni, Joey
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:

For I am—or I was—one of those people who pride themselves on their willpower, on their ability to make a decision and carry it through. This virtue, like most virtues, is ambi­guity itself. People who believe that they are strong-willed and the masters of their destiny can only continue to believe this by becoming specialists in self-deception. Their deci­sions are not really decisions at all—a real decision makes one humble, one knows that it is at the mercy of more things than can be named—but elaborate systems of evasion, of illusion, designed to make themselves and the world appear to be what they and the world are not.

Related Characters: David (speaker), David’s Father
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 1: Chapter 2 Quotes

As long as I was there the world could see and he could believe that he was out with me, his friend, he was not there out of desperation, he was not at the mercy of whatever adventurer chance, cruelty, or the laws of actual and emotional poverty might throw his way.

Related Characters: David (speaker), Giovanni, Jacques, Guillaume
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:

“If that was his sister looking so good. I’d invite her to have a drink with us. I don’t spend money on men.”

I could see Jacques struggling not to say that I didn’t have any objection to allowing men to spend money on me; I watched his brief struggle with a slight smile, for I knew he couldn’t say it; then he said, with that cheery, brave smile of his:

“I was not suggesting that you jeopardize, even for a moment, that’—he paused—‘that immaculate manhood which is your pride and joy. I only suggested that you invite him because he will almost certainly refuse if I invite him.”

Related Characters: David (speaker), Jacques (speaker), Giovanni
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:

“There’s been no confusion,” I snapped. “Don’t you go get­ting confused, either.”

“I think I can safely say,” said Jacques, “that I have scarcely ever been less confused than I am at this moment.” He had stopped smiling; he gave me a look which was dry, bitter, and impersonal. “And, at the risk of losing forever your so remarkably candid friendship, let me tell you something. Confusion is a luxury which only the very, very young can possibly afford, and you are not that young anymore.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said. “Let’s have another drink.”

I felt that I had better get drunk.

Related Characters: David (speaker), Jacques (speaker), Giovanni
Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:

As for the boys at the bar, they were each invisibly preening, having already calculated how much money he and his copain would need for the next few days, having already appraised Guillaume to within a decimal of that figure, and having already estimated how long Guillaume, as a fountainhead, would last, and also how long they would be able to endure him. […] There was also Jacques, who might turn out to be a bonus, or merely a consolation prize.

Related Characters: David (speaker), Giovanni, Jacques, Guillaume
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

“I mean you could have been fair to me by despising me a little less.”

“I’m sorry. But I think, since you bring it up, that a lot of your life is despicable.”

“I could say the same about yours,” said Jacques. “There are so many ways of being despicable it quite makes one’s head spin. But the way to be really despicable is to be con­temptuous of other people’s pain.”

Related Characters: David (speaker), Jacques (speaker), Giovanni
Page Number: 56
Explanation and Analysis:

“Love him,” said Jacques, with vehemence, “love him and let him love you. Do you think anything else under heaven really matters? And how long, at the best, can it last, since you are both men and still have everywhere to go? Only five minutes, I assure you, only five minutes, and most of that, helas! in the dark. And if you think of them as dirty, then they will be dirty—they will be dirty because you will be giving nothing, you will be despising your flesh and his. But you can make your time together anything but dirty, you can give each other something which will make both of you better—forever—if you will not be ashamed, if you will only not play it safe.” He paused, watching me, and then looked down to his cognac. “You play it safe long enough,” he said, in a different tone, “and you’ll end up trapped in your own dirty body, forever and forever and forever—like me.”

Related Characters: Jacques (speaker), David, Giovanni
Page Number: 58
Explanation and Analysis:

I saw myself, sharply, as a wanderer, an adventurer, rocking through the world, unanchored. I looked at Giovanni’s face, which did not help me. He belonged to this strange city, which did not belong to me. I began to see that, while what was happening to me was not so strange as it would have comforted me to believe, yet it was strange beyond belief. It was not really so strange, so unprecedented, though voices deep within me boomed, For shame! For shame! that I should be so abruptly, so hid­eously entangled with a boy; what was strange was that this was but one tiny aspect of the dreadful human tangle, occurring everywhere, without end, forever.

Related Characters: David (speaker), Giovanni, Hella
Page Number: 62
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2: Chapter 1 Quotes

The beast which Giovanni had awakened in me would never go to sleep again; but one day I would not be with Giovanni any more. And would I then, like all the others, find myself turning and following all kinds of boys down God knows what dark avenues, into what dark places?

With this fearful intimation there opened in me a hatred for Giovanni which was as powerful as my love and which was nourished by the same roots.

Related Characters: David (speaker), Giovanni
Page Number: 81
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2: Chapter 2 Quotes

When Giovanni wanted me to know that he was dis­pleased with me, he said I was a “vrai americain”; conversely, when delighted, he said that I was not an American at all; and on both occasions he was striking, deep in me, a nerve which did not throb in him. And I resented this: resented being called an American (and resented resenting it) because it seemed to make me nothing more than that, whatever that was; and I resented being called not an American because it seemed to make me nothing.

Related Characters: David (speaker), Giovanni
Page Number: 85
Explanation and Analysis:

I cannot say that I was frightened. Or, it would be better to say that I did not feel any fear—the way men who are shot do not, I am told, feel any pain for awhile. I felt a certain relief. It seemed that the necessity for decision had been taken from my hands. I told myself that we both had always known, Giovanni and myself, that our idyll could not last forever And it was not as though I had not been honest with him—he knew all about Hella. He knew that she would be returning to Paris one day. Now she would be coming back and my life with Giovanni would be fin­ished.

Related Characters: David (speaker), Giovanni, Hella
Page Number: 90
Explanation and Analysis:

Again, some­where at the bottom of me, I realized that my fears had been excessive and groundless and, in effect, a lie: it became clearer every instant that what I had been afraid of had nothing to do with my body. Sue was not Hella and she did not lessen my terror of what would happen when Hella came: she increased it, she made it more real than it had been before.

Related Characters: David (speaker), Giovanni, Hella, Sue
Page Number: 96
Explanation and Analysis:

Yet it was true, I recalled, turning away from the river down the long street home, I wanted children. I wanted to be inside again, with the light and safety, with my manhood unquestioned, watching my woman put my children to bed. I wanted the same bed at night and the same arms and I wanted to rise in the morning, knowing where I was. I wanted a woman to be for me a steady ground, like the earth itself, where I could always be renewed.

Related Characters: David (speaker), Giovanni, Hella, Sue
Page Number: 100
Explanation and Analysis:

“You want to be clean. You think you came here covered with soap and you think you will go out covered with soap—and you do not want to stink, not even for five minutes, in the meantime. […] You want to leave Giovanni because he makes you stink. You want to despise Giovanni because he is not afraid of the stink of love. You want to kill him in the name of all your lying little mor­alities. And you—you are immoral.”

Related Characters: Giovanni (speaker), David, Hella, Jacques
Page Number: 133
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2: Chapter 4 Quotes

“I wasn’t sure about that letter.” I was thinking, Perhaps I can get out of it without having to tell her anything. “You were sort of—offhand—I couldn’t be sure whether you were glad or sorry to be throwing in with me.”

“Oh,” she said, “but we’ve always been offhand, it’s the only way I could have said it. I was afraid of embarrassing you—don’t you understand that?”

Related Characters: David (speaker), Hella (speaker), Giovanni
Page Number: 117
Explanation and Analysis:

“You may laugh,” she said, humorously, “but there is something in what I say. I began to realize it in Spain— that I wasn’t free, that I couldn’t be free until I was attached—no, committed—to someone.”

[…]

“What do you want, Hella? What have you got now that makes such a difference?”

She laughed. “It isn’t what I’ve got. It isn’t even what I want. It’s that you’ve got me. So now I can be—your obedient and most loving servant.”

Related Characters: David (speaker), Hella (speaker), Giovanni
Page Number: 120
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2: Chapter 5 Quotes

“But I knew,” she said, “I knew. This is what makes me so ashamed. I knew it every time you looked at me. I knew it every time we went to bed. If only you had told me the truth then. Don’t you see how unjust it was to wait for me to find it out? To put all the burden on me? I had the right to expect to hear from you—women are always waiting for the man to speak. Or hadn’t you heard?”

Related Characters: Hella (speaker), David, Giovanni
Page Number: 154
Explanation and Analysis:

The body in the mirror forces me to turn and face it. And I look at my body, which is under sentence of death. It is lean, hard, and cold, the incarnation of a mystery. And I do not know what moves in this body, what this body is searching. It is trapped in my mirror as it is trapped in time and it hurries toward revelation.

Related Characters: David (speaker), Giovanni
Page Number: 158
Explanation and Analysis:
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David Character Timeline in Giovanni’s Room

The timeline below shows where the character David appears in Giovanni’s Room. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1: Chapter 1
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
David stands before the window of a house he’s renting in southern France. It’s night, and... (full context)
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Still thinking about the first stages of his relationship with Hella, David remembers that she decided to travel on her own to Spain as a way of... (full context)
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David reflects upon his feelings for Hella, remembering how he insisted that he once truly loved... (full context)
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In retrospect, David comes to think that he’ll never again be able to have such care-free nights full... (full context)
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David thinks of all the lies he’s told in his life. One stands out in particular,... (full context)
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Still recalling the aftermath of his sexual encounter with Joey, David remembers how confused he felt. He’d wondered how he could have possibly slept with another... (full context)
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Thinking about his childhood, David reflects upon his relationship with his father, remembering that his mother died when he was... (full context)
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Hoping to bond over a shared sense of masculinity, David’s father has always wanted to treat him as a friend rather than a son, but... (full context)
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When he leaves the hospital, David and his father have a frank discussion about his future. David hasn’t gone to college... (full context)
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For a long time, David keeps his father happy by leading a life that pleases the old man, even joining... (full context)
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Still standing at the window in southern France, David remembers the fear he felt when he was in the Army and a fellow soldier... (full context)
Part 1: Chapter 2
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After two years in Paris, David meets Giovanni in a bar frequented by people to whom Parisians refer as “of le... (full context)
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Although David often spends time with other gay (or possibly bisexual) men, he pretends to be straight,... (full context)
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After David and Jacques have dinner and Jacques agrees to lend him 10,000 francs, they make their... (full context)
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David knows that the only way Jacques will be successful in wooing Giovanni is if Giovanni... (full context)
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Giovanni comes to take Jacques and David’s orders. They’re both stunned by his beauty, but Giovanni politely defers when Jacques tries to... (full context)
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When Giovanni returns to David and Jacques’s table, David invites him to have a drink with them. Just then, Guillaume... (full context)
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Giovanni asks David where he’s from, and the two men discuss the differences between New York City and... (full context)
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David doesn’t like being so closely associated with American ways of seeing the world, but Giovanni... (full context)
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As David talks to Giovanni, he’s unnerved by how much he’s enjoying himself. However, he becomes acutely... (full context)
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While Giovanni is gone, David is terrified to see a trans woman slowly approaching him, though he himself doesn’t refer... (full context)
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When David is on his own again, Jacques leans toward him and says that everyone is talking... (full context)
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Giovanni briefly circles back to David and Jacques, at which point Jacques drops overwhelmingly obvious hints about the fact that David... (full context)
Part 1: Chapter 3
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...locks the door of his bar, it is 5:00 in the morning. Together, he, Jacques, David, and Giovanni decide to get breakfast, taking a taxi to another part of Paris. On... (full context)
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...group of attractive but dirty young men sitting there. When the hostess welcomes this idea, David realizes that she’s quite adept at allowing men like Jacques and Guillaume to feel comfortable... (full context)
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While they stand at the bar, Jacques speaks to David in a low voice, saying that this has been an important night for him. Although... (full context)
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In a serious tone, Jacques asks if David is going to treat Giovanni the same way he has treated him, adding that David... (full context)
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After Jacques and David finish their conversation, Jacques starts flirting with one of the young men at the bar.... (full context)
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Giovanni tells David that he had no money when he first came to Paris, which is why he... (full context)
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Upon leaving Guillaume and Jacques at the restaurant, Giovanni insists that David  should come back to his room, which is a small lodging on the outskirts of... (full context)
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David’s memories of his time with Giovanni are suddenly interrupted by the old woman who has... (full context)
Part 2: Chapter 1
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After their first night together, David moves into Giovanni’s room. It’s nearly springtime in Paris, and they develop a routine wherein... (full context)
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Roughly a month after they’ve been living together, David tells Giovanni about Hella, explaining that her letters give him the impression that she might... (full context)
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Giovanni is also surprised by David’s assertion that making love without true emotion can make a person lonely. No longer joking,... (full context)
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Emphasizing how terrible it would be if Hella found out about their relationship, David tells Giovanni that it would emotionally devastate her. He also points out that homosexuality is... (full context)
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During this period, David writes letters to Hella and his father without actually telling them much of anything. Privately,... (full context)
Part 2: Chapter 2
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Giovanni’s room is so messy and squalid that in the first stages of their relationship, David entertains himself by pretending to be a “housewife,” cleaning the space while Giovanni is at... (full context)
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One day, David receives letters from his father and Hella. The one from his father implores him to... (full context)
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David leaves the American Express Office and sits down at a café to read Hella’s letter,... (full context)
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After finishing his drink, David lets his anxieties about Hella’s return steer him to the Parisian neighborhood of Montparnasse, feeling... (full context)
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David tells Sue that she should invite him over for a drink, and though she refuses... (full context)
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After having sex, David and Sue lie in silence for a long while, though David itches to leave. As... (full context)
Part 2: Chapter 3
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As David walks toward Giovanni’s room along the Seine, he thinks about all the bustling lives playing... (full context)
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When David comes home that night, Giovanni isn’t at work. Instead, he’s very drunk and distraught. Explaining... (full context)
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...nothing to quell Guillaume’s rage, instead setting him off on a string of insults about David. Unwilling to put up with this kind of abuse, Giovanni goes downstairs to continue his... (full context)
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Giovanni tells David that he punched Guillaume, at which point a crowd of people pulled him away. Knowing... (full context)
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In the rented house in southern France, David continues to drink and think about Giovanni, knowing that the executioners will soon be coming... (full context)
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...his job, he spends his time trying to improve his room by installing bookshelves, though David feels as if this work amounts to little more than trying to keep the very... (full context)
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Returning to their room after discussing the possibility of leaving Paris, Giovanni asks David if he’s heard from Hella recently. In response, David says that although he hasn’t received... (full context)
Part 2: Chapter 4
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David doesn’t tell Giovanni when he leaves the apartment to meet Hella at the train station.... (full context)
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Lying next to David after giving up on having sex, Hella says that she was very lonely in Spain.... (full context)
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David writes a letter to his father. In this letter, he claims that he has been... (full context)
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It has been three days since Hella arrived in Paris, and David has yet to return to Giovanni’s room. He has been busy wandering the city with... (full context)
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...were beginning to think that you had gone back to America,” Jacques says, and when David asks who he means when he says “we,” Jacques says that Giovanni called him because... (full context)
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Calmly, David smiles and ignores Giovanni’s many questions, simply turning to introduce him to Hella, whom he... (full context)
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When they reach the street corner, Hella announces that she’d like to go home. David, for his part, says he’ll walk her home and then return for a drink, but... (full context)
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That night, David stays home with Hella. Lying in bed, she asks more questions about Giovanni, wanting to... (full context)
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Changing the subject, David tells Hella that he wants to leave Paris when the money from his father arrives.... (full context)
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Late the next night, David goes to Giovanni’s room. Giovanni is asleep, but he jumps up when the door opens.... (full context)
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Giovanni tells David that his wife gave birth to a baby who died in the womb. For hours,... (full context)
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Taken aback by Giovanni’s story, David stands and turns to leave. The room feels claustrophobic and in constant motion, and he... (full context)
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At a loss, David says that he’s a man, reminding Giovanni that nothing can happen between them because of... (full context)
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David stays with Giovanni until the early morning. When he’s about to leave, he looks at... (full context)
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In the days before David and Hella leave Paris, David sometimes bumps into Giovanni and Jacques. During these encounters, he... (full context)
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Soon enough, David starts seeing Giovanni around Paris without Jacques. No longer dressed in nice clothes, he spends... (full context)
Part 2: Chapter 5
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...hiding, since all the evidence so clearly points to him as the murderer. Interestingly enough, David observes that the papers begin to overlook Guillaume’s reputation as the owner of a gay... (full context)
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Surprised by David’s anger toward the press, Hella asks why he’s so surprised to discover that Giovanni is... (full context)
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Giovanni remains hidden for a week. During this time, David often looks out the window and scans the city with his eyes, wondering where his... (full context)
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David imagines the night of Guillaume’s murder, knowing that Giovanni must not have intended to kill... (full context)
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David already doesn’t want to be in Southern France by the time he and Hella move... (full context)
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Although David knows there’s nothing he can do for Giovanni, he hopes that Hella will be able... (full context)
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“He was so beautiful,” David says without meaning to. For a moment, Hella just stares at him, so he continues,... (full context)
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One night shortly after talking to Hella about Giovanni’s love for him, David goes to Nice and gets profoundly drunk. After walking the streets in search of a... (full context)
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David follows Hella out of the bar, and she tells him that she’s going back to... (full context)
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Before she leaves, Hella tells David that it was unfair for him to simply wait for her to find out about... (full context)
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Still gazing out the window, David watches the first hints of morning light strain over the horizon of southern France. His... (full context)
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Envisioning Giovanni walking toward the room in which he will be executed, David turns and faces his naked reflection in the mirror. Staring at himself, he realizes that... (full context)
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Leaving the house, David locks the door and walks to the side of the road. Stopping for a moment,... (full context)