Giovanni’s Room

by

James Baldwin

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Giovanni’s Room: Part 2: Chapter 1 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
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 just before the bar closes, at which point they have a drink before going to breakfast. Although they sometimes have breakfast at Guillaume’s bar, this is rare because Guillaume has come to dislike David. Consequently, they usually leave the bar to go eat, and afterwards they walk around Paris, strolling along the Seine and looking at the houseboats, which David notes Giovanni later uses as a hiding place when the police are after him. After spending the day traversing the city, they finally return to Giovanni’s apartment, where they drink coffee and cognac and have long conversations.
Despite David’s many reservations, he eases into a relationship with Giovanni, apparently overcoming his tendency to deny what he really wants. At the same time, though, he hasn’t ended his relationship with his girlfriend Hella, meaning that his existence with Giovanni is less of a final decision than it is a temporary acquiescence to his true desires. In this regard, he continues to live in denial, most likely telling himself that this period is nothing more than a happy and strange little interlude in the broader sweep of his life.
Themes
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. At first, Giovanni is lighthearted about the matter, jokingly proposing that Hella must have a Spanish lover. Otherwise, he wonders, why would she be spending so much time away from David? Soon enough, though, he suggests that David should find a different female lover, since he doesn’t think Hella sounds like the kind of woman who will stay away from him for long—a fact that will make it hard for David to continue seeing men. When David asks if Giovanni has ever had female lovers himself, Giovanni says that he has had sex with many women, though usually the experience lacks true emotion. This kind of lovemaking can make a person very lonely, David remarks, surprising himself with the comment. 
When Giovanni says that David should find a female lover who will travel even more than Hella, he reveals his belief that Hella is nothing more than a prop in David’s life. Along these lines, Giovanni thinks that David is dating Hella simply as a way to maintain a certain public image while acting on his attraction to men. To David, though, his relationship with Hella is genuine and serious. Of course, Giovanni’s interpretation is probably more accurate, but David can’t see this because recognizing such a thing would require him to acknowledge his own self-deception.
Themes
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
Giovanni is also surprised by David’s assertion that making love without true emotion can make a 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 is the very reason she went to Spain, hoping—apparently—to figure things out about herself. This once again strikes Giovanni as ridiculous, but David points out that if Hella weren’t traveling abroad, he wouldn’t be able to live with Giovanni. In response, Giovanni suggests that their relationship would certainly continue even if Hella were in Paris. This idea frightens David, who says that Hella might discover their relationship, but Giovanni makes fun of him for caring so much, saying, “We have not committed any crime.” 
What Giovanni doesn’t understand in this conversation is that David more or less feels that they have committed a crime. For David, their relationship is so illicit and shameful that they might as well be outlaws, which is why he can’t bear the idea of continuing to see Giovanni when Hella returns. In turn, readers once again witness David’s naivety, since he thinks he’ll be able to simply separate himself from Giovanni as if it’s no big deal when Hella returns—an attitude that grossly underestimates the strength of their bond and in this regard serves as one more form of denial.
Themes
Sexual Orientation and Denial 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 also points out that homosexuality is a crime in the United States. Still, Giovanni remains unperturbed, insisting that they can simply continue seeing each other even after Hella returns, saying that she will have nothing to complain about as long as David is still handsome and isn’t impotent.
When David tells Giovanni that homosexuality is illegal in the United States, he calls upon his American identity in a way that he normally tries to avoid. While he usually balks at the idea of being associated with the United States, he now sees that he can use his American identity to his benefit in his argument with Giovanni. In this way, he reveals his manipulative side while simultaneously voicing his perpetual worry that he will fail to live up to certain societal expectations. Even though he has tried to escape the American value system, he now superimposes it onto his life in Paris, unable to stop judging himself through other people’s eyes.
Themes
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
Travel, Identity, and Emotional Escape Theme Icon
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During this period, David writes letters to Hella 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 instance, he and Giovanni walk by a very handsome man. Unable to resist, David follows him with his eyes, and Giovanni bursts into laughter. For this reason, David comes to hate Giovanni just as much as he loves him, recognizing that both feelings arise from the same place within him. 
It’s significant that David’s resentment of Giovanni comes from the same place as his love. This is because his resentment is actually nothing more than a recognition of his own feelings of love and attraction. Because Giovanni has made it impossible for him to ignore how he really feels about men, he can’t help but begrudge him. This, it seems, is the only way to protect himself from his feelings, which is why David misdirects his complicated emotions.
Themes
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
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