Giovanni’s Room

by

James Baldwin

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Giovanni’s Room: Part 1: Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
When Guillaume finally 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 the way, Jacques and Guillaume make lewd jokes and laugh about how closely Giovanni and David have to sit in order to fit into the car, but Giovanni appears unbothered by this, so David simply ignores them. When they arrive at a small and rundown restaurant that Giovanni suggested they visit, David reaches for his wallet, but Giovanni stops him, flashing him a look to indicate that Jacques and Guillaume should be the ones to pay. 
When Giovanni stops David from paying for the taxi, readers see that he, too, has a somewhat exploitative relationship with older wealthy men. To benefit from Guillaume and Jacques’s riches, it seems, Giovanni and David have to endure their unsavory comments. Consequently, readers might ask themselves who is manipulating whom, since both parties (the young men and the old men) objectify each other in different ways.
Themes
Money, Sex, and Exploitation Theme Icon
Inside the dirty restaurant, Giovanni warmly greets the hostess, who ushers the men inside. Before making their way to the dining room, Guillaume suggests that they should all have a drink at the bar, clearly wanting to talk to the small 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 in her establishment, helping them find any excuse to flirt with younger men. Sure enough, she agrees to have a drink with Guillaume and Jacques, but tactfully recedes into the background as soon as Guillaume addresses one of the boys sitting at the end of the bar—a boy David is sure has already calculated just how much money he’ll be able to get out of Guillaume.
In this scene, Guillaume and Jacques’s interest in attractive young men comes to the forefront of the novel, as David watches the two older men quickly descend upon the good-looking boys sitting at the bar. The hostess apparently condones this sort of behavior by actively—but subtly—helping Guillaume talk to one of her regulars. This is most likely because the hostess knows that her young customers stand to benefit from any relations they might have with a rich man like Guillaume. In this way, the world in which David and Giovanni exist is seemingly structured to support mutually-exploitative relationships based only on money and sex rather than genuine emotion. 
Themes
Money, Sex, and Exploitation Theme Icon
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 David tries to ignore his implications, Jacques speaks straightforwardly, saying that David is lucky that he’s finally coming to terms with 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 glances at him with a look of pity and sadness.
Once more, Jacques shows actual concern for David’s wellbeing, despite the fact that he is usually interested in using his riches to manufacture exploitative relationships. In this moment, he tries yet again to help David embrace his sexual identity, empathetically urging him to acknowledge what he has long denied. However, David refuses to acknowledge his attraction to men (or, more specifically, to Giovanni), even when it’s overwhelmingly obvious to everyone else.
Themes
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
Money, Sex, and Exploitation Theme Icon
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 feigns ignorance, but Jacques says that he has been mean because he has failed to hide dislike of him. This, in turn, prompts David to say that he finds Jacques’s life detestable. In response, Jacques says that the most loathsome way to behave in life is to “be contemptuous of other people’s pain.” Defensively, David asks why Jacques can only find happiness through homosexual encounters, but Jacques merely turns the question around on him, imploring David to consider the men he himself has had sex with while pretending to be a heterosexual. He then urges David to be truthful about his feelings, insisting that he should love Giovanni and let Giovanni love him back.
While it’s true that Jacques dangles his money in order to have a relationship (of any kind) with David, it’s also true that David dangles his sexual appeal to take advantage of Jacques’s wealth. To do this, he leads Jacques on by giving him hope of someday having a genuine emotional relationship with him. Recognizing this, Jacques points out David’s tendency to resent the very people he’s hurting, but David refuses to candidly reflect upon his behavior, instead implying that Jacques would be happier if he were heterosexual. To his credit, Jacques doesn’t lash out at David in response, but simply encourages him to be honest with himself for once, something that would ultimately enable him to be kinder to people like Jacques. 
Themes
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
Money, Sex, and Exploitation Theme Icon
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After Jacques and David finish their conversation, Jacques starts flirting with one 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 oysters. As they drink and eat, Giovanni tells David how he met Guillaume. After coming out of a movie, Guillaume stopped him and told a story about how he had put his scarf on the seat in front of him. According to Guillaume, Giovanni sat on the scarf and caused it to fall on the ground. Claiming that it was an expensive scarf, Guillaume asked Giovanni to go back into the theater to look for it. Giovanni obliged, and to no great surprise, there was no scarf in the theater. Guillaume then invited Giovanni to have drinks and dinner with him.
The beginning of Guillaume and Giovanni’s relationship highlights the coy manipulation that people like Guillaume use to gain access to young men like Giovanni. Rather than simply approaching Giovanni to say hello, Guillaume tries to make him feel as if he owes him something. By putting Giovanni in this position, Guillaume effectively makes it harder for him to refuse his offer to go to drinks, using his power as a wealthy older man to his advantage because he knows he wouldn’t have a chance with Giovanni otherwise. 
Themes
Money, Sex, and Exploitation Theme Icon
Giovanni tells David that he had no money when he first came to Paris, which is why he accepted Guillaume’s dinner invite. At dinner, he learned that Guillaume owned a bar and that he could get him a worker’s permit, so he decided that his relationship with the older man could be beneficial. However, he admits to David that he was unsuccessful in dodging Guillaume’s physical advances, though at least he now has a worker’s permit and a job. Every once in a while, Giovanni explains, Guillaume will come onto him or grow jealous because others like him so much, but this has slowed down because Guillaume realized that Giovanni generates good business in his bar. Still, Giovanni knows Guillaume will soon make up some reason to be angry at him, and this poses an inescapable threat to his job.
Guillaume’s position of power over Giovanni puts an undeniable strain on their relationship. Although all Guillaume wants is for Giovanni to show him affection, he has created an environment in which it’s very unlikely that Giovanni could ever feel any kind of fondness for him whatsoever. After all, it’s painfully evident that Guillaume is willing to maliciously manipulate Giovanni, creating a subtly abusive dynamic that all but ruins any good will that might otherwise exist between them.
Themes
Money, Sex, and Exploitation 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 the outskirts of Paris. Refusing to entertain any other idea, Giovanni leads him there, saying that David will have to see his room at some point or another. When they arrive, Giovanni opens the door and David walks into a tiny, cluttered room. Then the door closes behind him and he turns to face Giovanni, feeling suddenly nervous and unsure of what he’s doing. Looking into Giovanni’s eyes, he understands that he will be lost forever if he doesn’t run from this room, but he can’t bring himself to leave. And then Giovanni curls into his arms and steers him to the bed while David internally screams No! and Yes! at the same time.
Once more, David’s internal conflict brings itself to bear on his life, this time waging a war inside him as he tries to decide whether or not to have sex with Giovanni. It’s quite obvious that this is what he wants on the deepest, most fundamental level, but his inability to accept his attraction to men makes the entire experience significantly more complicated than it might otherwise be. It’s worth keeping in mind that even though David’s reservations are couched in denial, homophobia, and narrow conceptions of masculinity, they are still quite real and valid. After all, sleeping with Giovanni will likely upend David’s entire self-image, turning this single experience into a deep existential upheaval. Simply put, it’s helpful to remember that David’s hesitations are based on genuine emotional consequences even if the reservations themselves are flawed or narrowminded.
Themes
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
Gender and Societal Expectations Theme Icon
David’s memories of his time with Giovanni are suddenly interrupted by the old woman who has rented her house to him in southern France. It is the night before he is set to leave, and she has come to take an inventory of the property. Going from room to room, she notices the mess he’s made of the place. She also asks why he hasn’t left the house for days on end, and he makes feeble 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, the old woman becomes deeply concerned, telling him that it’s not good for a man to spend his time in isolation without a woman’s presence. Going on, she instructs him to return to his father in America, find a wife, and have kids.  
As if it isn’t bad enough that David subjects himself to such unyielding rules about how he presents himself, the housekeeper mercilessly reminds him of all the ways in which he has failed to live up to various societal expectations. While going through the house, she forces him to once again consider the fact that he isn’t leading the existence of a stereotypical American family man. The fact that this interaction takes place in the present (after his relationship with Giovanni) only serves to illustrate just how difficult it is for him to escape these kinds of expectations.
Themes
Gender and Societal Expectations Theme Icon