Giovanni’s Room

by

James Baldwin

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

Summary
Analysis
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 work. When he’s not doing this or having meals with Giovanni, he sometimes goes to the American Express Office to retrieve his mail. While standing in line, he has the disorienting sense that there truly is such a thing as an American identity, regardless of how little he himself identifies with where he’s from. This calls to his mind the fact that Giovanni refers to him as a true American when he’s angry with him. When he’s pleased with him, though, he suggests that David isn’t really very American at all. David dislikes both interpretations, since he doesn’t like to be reduced to just one thing but also dislikes feeling as if he’s nothing at all.
Once again, David has trouble situating his national identity. On one hand, he left the United States in order to lead a new life, so being called a true American makes it harder to detach from his old identity. On the other hand, not having his American identity to call upon means that he has to fully commit himself to a new lifestyle, and though it might seem like he’s already done this (given that he’s in a relationship with a man), he’s not ready to completely inhabit a new self-image. As a result, he finds himself stranded between two cultural personas in much the same way that he’s suspended between his façade of heterosexuality and his true homosexual (or bisexual) desires.
Themes
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Gender and Societal Expectations Theme Icon
Travel, Identity, and Emotional Escape Theme Icon
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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 he’s doing abroad and wants him to return. Insisting that David is a red-blooded American, he suggests that there’s nothing for him in Paris. He also says he won’t send David money, not wanting him to waste it all. Ending his letter, he promises to help David however he can, though he wants his son to tell him whatever it is that’s keeping him from coming home. As he reads, David recognizes that his father’s letter is missing a central question that the old man clearly can’t bring himself to ask—“Is it a woman, David? Bring her on home […] and I’ll help you get set up.” The reason his father can’t ask this, David knows, is because he understands that he wouldn’t be able to bear the answer.
David’s relationship with his father once more brings itself to bear on his everyday life. This time, David projects his own insecurities onto his father, thinking that the old man already disapproves of David’s lifestyle without even knowing that he’s living with a man. He thinks his father wants to know if he’s dating a woman, once more associating heterosexuality with the kind of masculinity he believes his father cares about above all else. This, it seems, is partially why he has such a hard time coming to terms with his sexual orientation.
Themes
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
Gender and Societal Expectations Theme Icon
Travel, Identity, and Emotional Escape 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 has decided to return in 10 days, she makes it clear that she wants to get back together with David. Looking up, David orders a scotch and soda and nurses it while feeling terrible, realizing that he’s been dreading this letter for a long time. This, he feels, marks the beginning of the end of his relationship with Giovanni.
David treats his impending reunion with Hella as if it’s an unfortunate but unavoidable reality when, in truth, he could simply decide to stay with Giovanni. If he listened to his heart, he would certainly turn away from his relationship with Hella. Unfortunately, though, he doesn’t see this as a true option, since he can’t bring himself to embrace a long-term commitment with a man.
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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 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 pain that will appear on Giovanni’s face when he finally leaves him. Wanting to bury this image, then, David looks for a woman to have sex with, feeling that anyone at all will soothe his worries. Sitting at a bar, he watches people pass on the street and waits for someone he knows, finally recognizing a woman named Sue. David doesn’t find Sue attractive, but he eagerly invites her to have a drink and begins flirting with her. At first, she’s delighted by his attention, but she soon grows distant as David becomes more and more obvious about what he wants.
David’s elation about the end of his time with Giovanni makes sense if readers consider the fact that Hella’s return forces him (at least in his mind) to put an end to a relationship that has brought him immense emotional and existential turmoil. However, this sense of sudden freedom from his own romantic desires is short-lived because he soon recognizes how much he’s about to hurt Giovanni. To avoid thinking about this, then, he decides to have sex with Sue, effectively using her for his own needs without considering that he’s just hurting yet another person and thus doing very little to solve his original problem. 
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David tells Sue that she should invite him over for a drink, and though she refuses at first, she eventually relents, saying in what she clearly hopes is a flippant tone that she’ll certainly regret this decision. Once inside her apartment, David almost loses his nerve, suddenly afraid of going through with his plan. Because of this, he tries to get as drunk as possible, but they soon embrace. While having sex, David is painfully aware of his surroundings and the fact that Sue wants a true lover, not just a sexual partner. He also tries to make it clear through his thrusts that he doesn’t hate Sue as a person, and then he realizes that all of his fears have “nothing to do with [his] body.” In turn, he understands that having sex with Sue will do nothing to calm his nerves about Hella’s return. 
David is a man who romanticizes the idea of escaping his emotions. Wanting to outrun his misgivings about masculinity and his attraction to men, he fled the United States only to find himself in a relationship that threatened to wound his delicate idea of what it means to be a man. Similarly, he now invests himself in the fantasy of blocking out his emotions by having sex with Sue, thinking he’ll somehow be able to escape his troubles if he can only make love to a woman. This, of course, is nothing but an attempt to run once again from his insecurities, which is why he fails miserably to find any relief. In fact, he even realizes that his issues have “nothing to do with [his] body,” a sentiment that emphasizes just how futile it is to seek emotional rehabilitation through meaningless sex, an act he has already admitted leads to profound loneliness.
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After having sex, David and Sue lie in silence for a long while, though David itches to leave. As he dresses, she asks if he’ll go to dinner with her, but he makes up an excuse. When she asks if he’s free the following night, he tells her that he dislikes making plans, saying that he’ll simply surprise her the next time he wants to see her. Disappointed, she accepts this arrangement, telling him that he can seek her out if he ever feels lonely again. Heartbroken and ashamed, David moves toward the door. “Keep a candle,” he says, “in the window.” 
The fact that David used Sue to escape his emotional pain doesn’t mean that he feels any kind of connection with her. As a result, he can’t bring himself to associate with her after they have sex, heartlessly leaving her on her own because he doesn’t have the dignity or courtesy to place her feelings before her own. In this moment, then, readers see how truly selfish David is when it comes to the way he manipulates others to make him feel better without trying to give them anything in return.
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