Giovanni’s Room

by

James Baldwin

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Giovanni Character Analysis

Giovanni is a young, attractive Italian man living in Paris, and the first man with whom David has a long-term relationship. When his first child died in the womb, Giovanni cursed God and decided to leave Italy, coming to Paris out of grief. Without money or a worker’s permit, he couldn’t support himself until he met Guillaume, who gave him a job as a server at his bar in exchange for various sexual favors. Giovanni explains this to David on the first night they meet, managing to entice David with his flirtatious charm. At the end of the night, Giovanni convinces David to come back to his small room, where they have sex. From that point on, David lives with Giovanni, leading a happy existence even though Giovanni can tell that David has reservations about their relationship. One night, Giovanni’s life turns upside down when Guillaume fires him and publicly accuses him of stealing from the bar. He does this because Giovanni has stopped responding to his sexual advances, since he’s in what he thinks of as a committed relationship with David. Unbeknownst to Giovanni, though, David is out having sex with a woman on that very night. Returning home, Giovanni tells him that he would be at a loss without him, and though David comforts him in the moment, he refrains from telling Giovanni his plan to leave him when Hella returns to Paris. When Hella arrives, David simply disappears without a word, leaving Giovanni in a state of panic. With no money to support himself, Giovanni is forced to call Jacques, an older gay man who takes him under his wing and eventually has his way with him. Before long, Giovanni leaves Jacques and tries to convince Guillaume to hire him again. To do this, he has sex with Guillaume, but this backfires when Guillaume arrogantly informs him after the fact that he can’t hire him. Enraged, Giovanni strangles Guillaume with the belt of his dressing gown before running off into the night. Within a week, the police find him and he is sentenced to death. On the morning of his execution, David tries to forget Giovanni but knows he never will.

Giovanni Quotes in Giovanni’s Room

The Giovanni’s Room quotes below are all either spoken by Giovanni or refer to Giovanni. 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:
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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Giovanni’s Room PDF

Giovanni Character Timeline in Giovanni’s Room

The timeline below shows where the character Giovanni 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
Travel, Identity, and Emotional Escape Theme Icon
...marry David, but by the time she came back to Paris he was already with Giovanni, effectively dooming their relationship. However, she didn’t know this at the time, and David didn’t... (full context)
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
...be trusted with another person’s love. After all, if it weren’t for him, he thinks, Giovanni wouldn’t be facing execution that very night while David himself drinks and stares into the... (full context)
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
Gender and Societal Expectations Theme Icon
...told in his life. One stands out in particular, which is that he insisted to Giovanni that he had never had sex with another man before. This, David now admits, isn’t... (full context)
Part 1: Chapter 2
Travel, Identity, and Emotional Escape Theme Icon
Money, Sex, and Exploitation Theme Icon
After two years in Paris, David meets Giovanni in a bar frequented by people to whom Parisians refer as “of le milieu.” At... (full context)
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
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...through to the closeted American. In retrospect, David thinks that Jacques is partly responsible for Giovanni’s eventual death, though no more responsible than David is himself. (full context)
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...though, he and Jacques see that Guillaume has hired a strikingly attractive young Italian man, Giovanni, as a server. This  is the first time David sets eyes on Giovanni, and though... (full context)
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David knows that the only way Jacques will be successful in wooing Giovanni is if Giovanni needs money. In fact, even Jacques understands this—after all, this is the... (full context)
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Giovanni comes to take Jacques and David’s orders. They’re both stunned by his beauty, but Giovanni... (full context)
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When Giovanni returns to David and Jacques’s table, David invites him to have a drink with them.... (full context)
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Giovanni asks David where he’s from, and the two men discuss the differences between New York... (full context)
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David doesn’t like being so closely associated with American ways of seeing the world, but Giovanni is only being playful. After a moment, Giovanni asks if Jacques is David’s uncle, and... (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 aware that everyone... (full context)
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Gender and Societal Expectations Theme Icon
While Giovanni is gone, David is terrified to see a trans woman slowly approaching him, though he... (full context)
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Money, Sex, and Exploitation Theme Icon
...own again, Jacques leans toward him and says that everyone is talking about him and Giovanni. With a coy smile, he asks if Giovanni has grown confused about which one of... (full context)
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Giovanni briefly circles back to David and Jacques, at which point Jacques drops overwhelmingly obvious hints... (full context)
Part 1: Chapter 3
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...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 the way,... (full context)
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Inside the dirty restaurant, Giovanni warmly greets the hostess, who ushers the men inside. Before making their way to the... (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 has been quite insensitive. David... (full context)
Money, Sex, and Exploitation Theme Icon
...of the young men at the bar. Since both he and Guillaume are preoccupied, then, Giovanni and David slip into the dining room and order a bottle of white wine with... (full context)
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Giovanni tells David that he had no money when he first came to Paris, which is... (full context)
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Gender and Societal Expectations Theme Icon
Upon leaving Guillaume and Jacques at the restaurant, Giovanni insists that David  should come back to his room, which is a small lodging on... (full context)
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David’s memories of his time with Giovanni are suddenly interrupted by the old woman who has rented her house to him in... (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 David meets Giovanni... (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 soon return... (full context)
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Giovanni is also surprised by David’s assertion that making love without true emotion can make a... (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 a crime... (full context)
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...and his father without actually telling them much of anything. Privately, he feels as if Giovanni has made it impossible for him to ignore his attraction to men. One day, for... (full context)
Part 2: Chapter 2
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Travel, Identity, and Emotional Escape Theme Icon
Giovanni’s room is so messy and squalid that in the first stages of their relationship, David... (full context)
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...long time. This, he feels, marks the beginning of the end of his relationship with Giovanni. (full context)
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...the Parisian neighborhood of Montparnasse, feeling oddly liberated by the fact that his relationship with Giovanni will soon come to an end. However, as he continues to walk, he imagines the... (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 out at that... (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 what happened, he tells David... (full context)
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In his argument with Giovanni, Guillaume suggests that the young man has manipulated him by leading him on. To counter... (full context)
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Giovanni tells David that he punched Guillaume, at which point a crowd of people pulled him... (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 for his poor lover. As he contemplates... (full context)
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After Giovanni loses his job, he spends his time trying to improve his room by installing bookshelves,... (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... (full context)
Part 2: Chapter 4
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Gender and Societal Expectations Theme Icon
David doesn’t tell Giovanni when he leaves the apartment to meet Hella at the train station. When he hugs... (full context)
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...he’ll be able to avoid resuming their relationship without even having to tell her about Giovanni. However, Hella now makes it clear once and for all that she wants to be... (full context)
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Gender and Societal Expectations Theme Icon
...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 Hella, having long conversations about her... (full context)
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...says, and when David asks who he means when he says “we,” Jacques says that Giovanni called him because he was left with no money. Jacques then explains that he went... (full context)
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Calmly, David smiles and ignores Giovanni’s many questions, simply turning to introduce him to Hella, whom he calls his fiancée. Giovanni... (full context)
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...home and then return for a drink, but when he asks where he should meet Giovanni and Jacques, Giovanni bitterly tells him that they shouldn’t be hard to find. With this,... (full context)
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That night, David stays home with Hella. Lying in bed, she asks more questions about Giovanni, wanting to know why David chose to live with him. Trying to sound casual, David... (full context)
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...so he tells her that he wants to get away because he’ll inevitably keep encountering Giovanni in Paris. As soon as he says this, he stops, not knowing how to proceed... (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. Seeing that it’s... (full context)
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Giovanni tells David that his wife gave birth to a baby who died in the womb.... (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,... (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 this simple fact. Unperturbed, Giovanni says that... (full context)
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David stays with Giovanni until the early morning. When he’s about to leave, he looks at Giovanni and knows... (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 notices a change in Giovanni, who’s always dressed in... (full context)
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Soon enough, David starts seeing Giovanni around Paris without Jacques. No longer dressed in nice clothes, he spends time with a... (full context)
Part 2: Chapter 5
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...throughout Paris. The newspapers run long pieces about the details of the incident, speculating about Giovanni and his background. Meanwhile, Giovanni has gone into hiding, since all the evidence so clearly... (full context)
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...by David’s anger toward the press, Hella asks why he’s so surprised to discover that Giovanni is a murder. After all, he lived with him, Hella points out, meaning that he... (full context)
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Giovanni remains hidden for a week. During this time, David often looks out the window and... (full context)
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David imagines the night of Guillaume’s murder, knowing that Giovanni must not have intended to kill him. Envisioning the entire scene, he sees Giovanni preparing... (full context)
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Guillaume touches Giovanni and has his way with him, instructing him to take off his clothes. For a... (full context)
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...with Hella, but he goes through the motions anyway. Jacques sends him frequent updates about Giovanni’s case, sending word about what his lawyer has said, though it’s clear that nothing can... (full context)
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Although David knows there’s nothing he can do for Giovanni, he hopes that Hella will be able to help him lead a happy life. When... (full context)
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...moment, Hella just stares at him, so he continues, saying that he feels responsible for Giovanni’s decline. He then tells Hella that Giovanni wanted him to continue living with him, and... (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... (full context)
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...the table sits an envelope with a letter from Jacques—the letter that informed David that Giovanni will be executed this morning for Guillaume’s murder. As David undresses to change into the... (full context)
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Envisioning Giovanni walking toward the room in which he will be executed, David turns and faces his... (full context)