Giovanni’s Room

by

James Baldwin

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Giovanni’s Room: Part 2: Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
As David walks toward Giovanni’s room along the Seine, he thinks about all the bustling lives playing out at that moment in the Parisian nighttime. Thinking this way, he unexpectedly feels as if he has come a long way from home just to succumb to misery and despair. At the same time, though, he tells himself that he wants children, a family, and the stability that a relationship with a woman would afford him. Being with a woman, he thinks, would be like having something to ground him, enabling him to be confident about his masculinity.   
Once again, David associates masculinity and even stability with heterosexuality. To be fair, he’s correct that existing in a homosexual relationship in the 1950s would be significantly more difficult than having a wife and children. However, this has nothing to do with masculinity, other than that David has internalized society’s narrow-minded belief that being a man means finding a wife and having children. And while this lifestyle might afford him with stability, it’s worth noting that it would clearly make him unhappy.
Themes
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
Gender and Societal Expectations Theme Icon
When David comes home that night, Giovanni isn’t at work. Instead, he’s very drunk and distraught. Explaining what happened, he tells David that Guillaume fired him. Going on, he informs him that Guillaume arrived at work that night in a dark mood. Clearly wanting to yell at Giovanni, he tried to find flaws in his work but was ultimately unable to, so he retreated upstairs. Shortly thereafter, though, he called Giovanni up and asked him about his relationship with David, which surprised Giovanni because Guillaume never likes to talk about David. At this point, the old man began asking lewd questions about their sex life, and when Giovanni finally stopped him and said he had no right to say such things, Guillaume shouted at him and reminded him that he’d still be on the streets if not for their relationship. 
It's significant that David was nowhere to be found when Giovanni was undergoing such a troubling experience. This reflects how little Giovanni can count on him for emotional support. On another note, Guillaume’s cruelty underscores the toxic nature of his relationship with Giovanni, which is founded upon nothing but exploitation and manipulation. Now, though, it seems especially obvious that Guillaume holds an inordinate amount of power over Giovanni. Whereas Giovanni can only make Guillaume yearn for him, Guillaume can interfere with Giovanni’s work and therefore his livelihood. In turn, Baldwin intimates that supposedly mutually-exploitative relationships are often not as equal as they might seem, since one party often has more influence over the other.
Themes
Money, Sex, and Exploitation Theme Icon
In his argument with Giovanni, Guillaume suggests that the young man has manipulated him by leading him on. To counter this idea, Giovanni says that he never once felt anything for Guillaume, prompting Guillaume to remind him that they had intimate relations shortly after they first met. In response, Giovanni says that things are different now because he has a boyfriend, but this does nothing to quell Guillaume’s rage, instead setting him off on a string of insults about David. Unwilling to put up with this kind of abuse, Giovanni goes downstairs to continue his shift. Before long, though, Guillaume follows him and accuses him of stealing from the bar. As everyone watches, he forces Giovanni to leave, throwing money at him out of the cash register and claiming that he’d rather give it to him than have Giovanni rob him.
In this scene, readers see once and for all that Guillaume’s treatment of Giovanni is blatantly abusive, as he wields his power to punish Giovanni for simply refusing to have sex with him. Although Giovanni may have used his good looks to get money out of Guillaume at the beginning of their relationship, this doesn’t mean that Guillaume is forever entitled to his body. As soon as Giovanni rejects his advances, though, Guillaume fires him and ruins his reputation in front of everyone, making it unlikely that Giovanni will be able to find another job. In this way, he uses his influence to demolish Giovanni’s ability to survive in Paris—a clear indication that their relationship isn’t equal at all.
Themes
Money, Sex, and Exploitation Theme Icon
Giovanni tells David that he punched Guillaume, at which point a crowd of people pulled him away. Knowing that the police might come, he agreed to leave. “But I will see him again,” he says, “I swear it, and on that day—!” Cutting himself off, he looks with intensity at the wall before saying that this would be the end of him if it weren’t for David’s support. Although David suggests that he’s being too dramatic, Giovanni insists that he would be at a complete loss if he were on his own. Trying to lighten the mood, then, David proposes that they go out for a drink, and Giovanni agrees on the condition that David will take him home afterward. Before they go, they lay out all the money they have between them and realize that it’s only enough for them to survive for a very short period.
Giovanni’s insistence that he would be at a loss without David suggests that he hasn’t yet realized how little he can depend upon his lover. Because David is so focused on his own emotions, he’s ill-equipped (or selfishly unwilling) to help Giovanni through this difficult time. Worse, he fails to inform Giovanni that he’ll soon be getting back together with Hella. This is a selfish thing to do, as it’s obvious that David simply wants to avoid a difficult conversation. Once again, then, he prioritizes himself above everyone else. What’s especially noteworthy is that his decision to focus on his own problems doesn’t even lead him to happiness, since he’s at war with himself and his sexual identity. Consequently, everyone—including him—suffers because of his emotional failures.
Themes
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
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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 this, he realizes that he can’t deny that he loved Giovanni and that he’ll never love somebody so fully ever again.  Despite himself, he can’t help but envision what it’s like for Giovanni in prison, wondering what he’s feeling at this very moment and whether or not he’s had sex with anyone in jail.
In retrospect, David is finally able to acknowledge the true nature of his feelings for Giovanni. However, this doesn’t mean that he accepts these feelings any more than he did while still living in Paris. Rather, he’s simply capable of recognizing how he felt, which is not the same as coming to terms with his sexuality.
Themes
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
After Giovanni loses his job, he spends his time trying to improve his room by installing bookshelves, though David feels as if this work amounts to little more than trying to keep the very walls of the room from encroaching upon them. One evening, David unexpectedly proposes that they leave Paris simply to get away. Everything good in life perishes in Paris, he claims. Giovanni, for his part, doesn’t feel strongly either way, and when David asks if he’d like to return to Italy, he says he doesn’t want to do this for the same reasons that David himself wouldn’t want to return to the United States. In response, David says that he does want to return to the United States someday, but Giovanni points out that actually going home takes away one’s ability to take comfort in the idea of going home—a notion that unsettles David.
David’s sudden desire to leave Paris aligns with his tendency to want to outrun his problems. Now that Giovanni has been fired from Guillaume’s bar and Hella is about to return to Paris, he wants to simply leave the city, apparently thinking that doing so would help him forget about all his woes. However, it’s worth noting that he’s not proposing that he and Giovanni elope and stay together permanently. In fact, he has said nothing to indicate that he plans to stay with Giovanni when Hella returns. For that matter, he hasn’t even told Giovanni that Hella is coming back in the first place. Nonetheless, he still romanticizes the notion of picking up and leaving, even saying that he will someday return to the United States. Giovanni, on the other hand, is cognizant of the fact that people can’t simply change their lives by relocating. This, he understands, only works in the abstract, which is why the mere idea of having a home to revisit tends to be more meaningful than the actual experience of returning home.
Themes
Travel, Identity, and Emotional Escape Theme Icon
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 hasn’t received any letters in the past few days, he senses that Hella is likely to appear at any moment. With a sad tenderness, Giovanni tells David to come give him a hug, and as they stand together in the middle of the room, David feels as if they are slowly killing each other. 
That David feels like he and Giovanni are killing each other is a perfect representation of his inability to accept that he’s in love with a man. Rather than seeing their tenderness as a beautiful thing, he sees it as a source of pain and misery, clearly believing that he will soon have no choice but to abandon Giovanni once and for all. In reality, he could choose not to do this, but he doesn’t recognize this as a legitimate option.
Themes
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon