Giovanni’s Room

by

James Baldwin

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Hella Character Analysis

Hella is an American woman living in Europe, and David’s fiancée. Hella is an intelligent and kind woman who decides to travel in Spain alone after David proposes to her. Leaving him in Paris, she sets out with the hopes of figuring what it is that she wants in life. She writes letters to David while she’s gone, and though he responds, she remains unaware of his developing relationship with Giovanni. After months of traveling, she has the realization that society only recognizes women in terms of their association with men. This widespread sexism unsettles her, but she decides nevertheless to marry David, thinking that this is essentially the only way for a woman to make a place for herself in the world. With this in mind, she returns to Paris and resumes her relationship with David. When she meets Giovanni one day, she’s puzzled by how angry he is at David, and though she accepts David’s explanation that he and Giovanni were roommates while she was gone, she remains curious about the nature of their relationship. However, it isn’t until much later that she realizes Giovanni is in love with David. By this time, she and David are living in the South of France, and Giovanni is in jail for murdering Guillaume. Shortly after admitting that Giovanni is in love with him, David disappears for several days, and Hella eventually tracks him down in Nice, where he’s been having sex with a sailor. Finally understanding that David is attracted to men, she immediately packs her bags and sets off for the United States, telling David that she’ll never be able to love a man again because she’ll always think about how he deceived her.

Hella Quotes in Giovanni’s Room

The Giovanni’s Room quotes below are all either spoken by Hella or refer to Hella. 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:
Part 1: Chapter 2 Quotes

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 2 Quotes

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:
Get the entire Giovanni’s Room LitChart as a printable PDF.
Giovanni’s Room PDF

Hella Character Timeline in Giovanni’s Room

The timeline below shows where the character Hella 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
...But instead of cleaning the house like he’s supposed to, he thinks about his girlfriend Hella, who left him not long ago and is making her way back to America at... (full context)
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
Travel, Identity, and Emotional Escape Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
Travel, Identity, and Emotional Escape Theme Icon
David reflects upon his feelings for Hella, remembering how he insisted that he once truly loved her while she was packing her... (full context)
Part 1: Chapter 2
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
Gender and Societal Expectations Theme Icon
...he also can’t deny that he’s enjoying himself and is extremely glad that his girlfriend Hella is on vacation in Spain. At the same time, though, he wishes he could bring... (full context)
Part 1: Chapter 3
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
Money, Sex, and Exploitation Theme Icon
...his sexuality before it’s too late. He asks if David is going to write to Hella about tonight, and when David suggests he would have nothing of note to say, Jacques... (full context)
Gender and Societal Expectations Theme Icon
...excuses while trying to hide how drunk he is. At one point, she asks where Hella has gone, and when he says that she returned to the United States without him,... (full context)
Part 2: Chapter 1
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
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 to Paris.... (full context)
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
...person lonely. No longer joking, he strokes David’s face and apologizes for speaking disparagingly about Hella. Giovanni then asks what, exactly, Hella wants, but David can only tell him that this... (full context)
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
Travel, Identity, and Emotional Escape Theme Icon
Emphasizing how terrible it would be if Hella found out about their relationship, David tells Giovanni that it would emotionally devastate her. He... (full context)
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
During this period, David writes letters to Hella and his father without actually telling them much of anything. Privately, he feels as if... (full context)
Part 2: Chapter 2
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
Gender and Societal Expectations Theme Icon
Travel, Identity, and Emotional Escape Theme Icon
One day, David receives letters from his father and Hella. The one from his father implores him to come home. His father doesn’t understand what... (full context)
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
David leaves the American Express Office and sits down at a café to read Hella’s letter, in which she tells him that she’s finished traveling in Spain. Explaining that she... (full context)
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
After finishing his drink, David lets his anxieties about Hella’s return steer him to the Parisian neighborhood of Montparnasse, feeling oddly liberated by the fact... (full context)
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
Travel, Identity, and Emotional Escape Theme Icon
...he understands that having sex with Sue will do nothing to calm his nerves about Hella’s return.  (full context)
Part 2: Chapter 3
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
...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 any letters in the past... (full context)
Part 2: Chapter 4
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
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 her, he feels a sense of elation about... (full context)
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
Gender and Societal Expectations Theme Icon
Lying next to David after giving up on having sex, Hella says that she was very lonely in Spain. Originally, she says, she wanted to explore... (full context)
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
Gender and Societal Expectations Theme Icon
Travel, Identity, and Emotional Escape Theme Icon
...his father. In this letter, he claims that he has been keeping his relationship with Hella a secret, not wanting to say anything until he knew she would marry him. After... (full context)
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
Gender and Societal Expectations Theme Icon
It has been three days since Hella arrived in Paris, and David has yet to return to Giovanni’s room. He has been... (full context)
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
Money, Sex, and Exploitation Theme Icon
...the young man that David probably only left to think things through. As Jacques greets Hella—who doesn’t like him—he explains that Giovanni has just stepped out of the bookstore. Hearing this,... (full context)
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
Money, Sex, and Exploitation Theme Icon
Calmly, David smiles and ignores Giovanni’s many questions, simply turning to introduce him to Hella, whom he calls his fiancée. Giovanni greets her coldly, at which point Jacques proposes that... (full context)
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
When they reach the street corner, Hella announces that she’d like to go home. David, for his part, says he’ll walk her... (full context)
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
That night, David stays home with Hella. Lying in bed, she asks more questions about Giovanni, wanting to know why David chose... (full context)
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
Travel, Identity, and Emotional Escape Theme Icon
Changing the subject, David tells Hella that he wants to leave Paris when the money from his father arrives. Although she’s... (full context)
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
Gender and Societal Expectations Theme Icon
...David says that Giovanni must have known all along that he would someday return to Hella, but Giovanni rejects this, saying that David isn’t truly leaving him for her. “You are... (full context)
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
Money, Sex, and Exploitation Theme Icon
...of what could happen between them, which is exactly why he’s leaving to be with Hella. After saying this, Giovanni gives up. Taking out a bottle of cognac that Jacques left... (full context)
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
Travel, Identity, and Emotional Escape Theme Icon
...his tears at bay in the moment. In the coming days, David spends time with Hella and watches Paris turn from summer to fall. Before long, he receives money from his... (full context)
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
Money, Sex, and Exploitation Theme Icon
In the days before David and Hella leave Paris, David sometimes bumps into Giovanni and Jacques. During these encounters, he notices a... (full context)
Part 2: Chapter 5
Travel, Identity, and Emotional Escape Theme Icon
Money, Sex, and Exploitation Theme Icon
...widespread animosity in the press because he’s a foreigner—something that upsets David, who complains to Hella about the fact that Guillaume was nothing but a “disgusting old fairy.” (full context)
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
Surprised by David’s anger toward the press, Hella asks why he’s so surprised to discover that Giovanni is a murder. After all, he... (full context)
Travel, Identity, and Emotional Escape Theme Icon
David already doesn’t want to be in Southern France by the time he and Hella move into the house they’ve rented. By this point, he knows he can’t be happy... (full context)
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
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 Giovanni’s trail arrives and... (full context)
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
Travel, Identity, and Emotional Escape Theme Icon
“He was so beautiful,” David says without meaning to. For a moment, Hella just stares at him, so he continues, saying that he feels responsible for Giovanni’s decline.... (full context)
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
One night shortly after talking to Hella about Giovanni’s love for him, David goes to Nice and gets profoundly drunk. After walking... (full context)
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
Gender and Societal Expectations Theme Icon
David follows Hella out of the bar, and she tells him that she’s going back to the United... (full context)
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
Before she leaves, Hella tells David that it was unfair for him to simply wait for her to find... (full context)