Giovanni’s Room

by

James Baldwin

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Giovanni’s Room: Part 2: Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
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 the prospect of resuming their relationship, and she tells him how happy she is to be back in Paris, taking his face in her hands and kissing him. In this moment, David decides not to think about Giovanni yet, resolving to spend the night with Hella. Having made this decision, he goes with her to her hotel, where they kiss and talk. All the while, David hopes he can erase Giovanni’s image from his head by touching Hella. Because this thought distracts him when he and Hella are having sex, though, she stops and asks if she’s been away for too long, and he leads her to believe that this is indeed the case.
David avoids telling Hella the truth by insinuating that he simply needs to get used to her touch again. In reality, he’s unable to perform sexually because he has a guilty conscience, knowing all too well that he’s betraying Giovanni. Furthermore, it’s quite likely that he has trouble having sex with Hella because he simply isn’t attracted to women, though it’s worth acknowledging that Baldwin never clarifies this point. This lack of clarity regarding whether or not David is strictly gay, or perhaps bisexual, might have to do with the fact that David himself is the novel’s first-person narrator, meaning that any insight into the nature of his sexuality must come from him. And because he’s apparently so committed to leading the life of a heterosexual man, he wouldn’t admit that he isn’t attracted to women even if this were indeed the case. 
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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 the world and spend time thinking about what she wants in life. But before long she felt directionless and alone. When David asks if she was able to come to any conclusions about their relationship, she reminds him of the letter she sent, in which she told him that she was eager to rekindle their bond. Noncommittally, David says he didn’t know what to think about that letter, secretly hoping that perhaps he’ll be able to avoid resuming their relationship without even having to tell her about Giovanni. However, Hella now makes it clear once and for all that she wants to be with him, and David finds himself saying that he wants to start a family with her.
This conversation is a perfect example of how David tries to subtly manipulate people into enacting his own will. Because he can’t bring himself to declare his love for Giovanni, he also can’t tell Hella that he doesn’t want to be in a relationship with her. After all, this would essentially mean committing himself to his relationship with Giovanni. Consequently, David underhandedly tries to get Hella to end the relationship, which would give him the excuse to continue his affair with Giovanni without ever having to make a conscious decision to do so. Angling toward this, he pretends to not know what Hella wants, hoping that she will back out of their plan to get married so he doesn’t have to. Needless to say, this doesn’t work because Hella is excited to once more invest herself in their relationship, so David goes along with their original plan.
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David writes a letter to 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 explaining that Hella is from Minneapolis—which, he points out, means that she has the same values as his father—he asks his father to finally send his money.
Now that David has agreed to marry Hella, he can finally become the kind of man he thinks his father has always wanted him to be. The fact that this comes with a financial bonus is also worth considering, since it supports David’s idea that his father—and, for that matter, society at large—smiles upon heterosexual men like himself, thereby giving him an incentive to continue denying his true sexual identity. Furthermore, David’s comment that Hella shares the same values as his father once again illustrates the ways in which he pays close attention to the trappings of a person’s national identity, ultimately letting this factor into his decision to marry an American woman instead of remaining with an Italian man.
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It has been three days since Hella arrived in Paris, and David has yet to return to Giovanni’s room. He has been busy wandering the city with Hella, having long conversations about her time in Spain and their plans for the future. During one discussion, Hella points out that society only acknowledges women as individuals if they’re married to men, arguing that women have to be associated with men in order to be taken seriously. David claims to not understand what she means, simply laughing and saying, “You’re adorable. I don’t understand you at all.” As this conversation ends, they duck into a bookstore and come face to face with Jacques.
When David says that he doesn’t understand what Hella is talking about, he perfectly illustrates her point. Hella has just dared to make an astute observation about the ways in which women are disenfranchised in society, but David is unable to recognize the validity of her claims. Interestingly enough, though, his failure to respond well to her point might have to do with the fact that he, too, feels stuck in an arbitrary societal role. As a gay or bisexual man trying to pass as heterosexual, he is unable to be the individual he would like to be. In this way, both he and Hella feel trapped in their identities, unable to define themselves the way they want.
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 “We were beginning to think that you had gone back to America,” Jacques says, and when David asks who he means when he says “we,” Jacques says that Giovanni called him because he was left with no money. Jacques then explains that he went to get Giovanni, who wanted to search the Seine for David, but he persuaded 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, David hopes Hella won’t want to stay much longer, but before he can do anything, Giovanni enters and shouts at him, asking where he has been and saying that he thought he was dead. 
It’s helpful to remember that David has just abandoned Giovanni for three days without telling him where he was going. As his lover, Giovanni was understandably worried sick about him, but Jacques clearly took a more cynical view of the situation and insisted that David left of his own accord. Jacques is able to see the truth of the matter because he knows that David’s unwillingness to embrace his true sexual identity has grave consequences for his loved ones. In the same way that David has always given Giovanni false hope about perhaps one day having a romantic relationship, Jacques knows that he has now led Giovanni to believe that they will live happily together for a long time. In reality, though, it’s clear that David has no intention of staying with Giovanni, and Jacques uses this information to his own benefit, swooping in to establish a mildly exploitative relationship with Giovanni in his time of need.
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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 they all go out for a drink. Ignoring this, Giovanni addresses David directly, chastising him for leaving without saying goodbye. In response, David suggests that Giovanni clearly didn’t have any trouble figuring out where to go, having noticed that he’s wearing a tie that undoubtedly belongs to Jacques. As the group walks out of the bookstore toward a bar, Giovanni tells David that he’s cruel.
David has no right to be upset that Giovanni has sought comfort in his relationship with Jacques, since he cruelly abandoned him with no warning and left him with no money. Nonetheless, it’s evident that David dislikes the bond developing between Jacques and Giovanni, indicating that his feelings for Giovanni most likely won’t go away as easily as he might have hoped.
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When they reach the street corner, Hella announces that she’d like to go home. David, for his part, says he’ll walk her home and then return for a drink, but when he asks where he should meet Giovanni and Jacques, Giovanni bitterly tells him that they shouldn’t be hard to find. With this, David says farewell and walks Hella home. On their way, Hella asks David about Giovanni, clearly unsettled by Giovanni’s raw emotion. David tells her that they’ve simply been sharing a room, explaining that Giovanni is only his roommate and, as such, doesn’t deserve to be so angry at him for leaving. Hella accepts this explanation but continues asking questions about the nature of their relationship, wondering why Giovanni is so emotionally intense. No matter what she asks, though, David comes up with a convincing answer. 
As someone who constantly lies to himself, it’s unsurprising that David has no trouble deceiving Hella. Regardless of what she asks, he manages to answer her questions about Giovanni in a way that frames the young Italian’s anger as unwarranted but somewhat logical. At the same time, though, Hella’s suspicion shines through in this moment, though it’s apparent she doesn’t want to push too hard on the matter, perhaps because she—like David’s father—doesn’t want her suspicions confirmed.
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That night, David stays home with Hella. Lying in bed, she asks more questions about Giovanni, wanting to know why David chose to live with him. Trying to sound casual, David says that he liked Giovanni, prompting her to ask if he no longer likes him. In response, David says that he still cares about Giovanni and that Hella most likely didn’t get an accurate impression of him. He also takes pleasure in saying, “I love him, in a way. I really do.”  Hearing this, Hella proposes that they should take Giovanni out to dinner sometime, and David agrees that this would be a good idea, eventually saying that people like Giovanni have a hard time in France because the country doesn’t have any resources for poor immigrants.
Although David largely denies his sexual identity, he also relishes any moment in which he can be honest with himself and his loved ones. In this conversation with Hella, he takes delight in saying that he loves Giovanni, and though he says so in a disingenuous manner, it’s obvious that he feels a sense of relief by simply uttering a true statement. In turn, Baldwin spotlights just how much of a burden it is for David to constantly lie about his feelings.
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Changing the subject, David tells Hella that he wants to leave Paris when the money from his father arrives. Although she’s surprised by this suggestion, Hella agrees to go wherever he wants, so they decide to go to southern France. At the same time, though, David senses that Hella finds his desire to leave strange, so he tells her that he wants to get away because he’ll inevitably keep encountering Giovanni in Paris. As soon as he says this, he stops, not knowing how to proceed when she asks why running into Giovanni would be a problem. Carefully, he says that seeing Giovanni puts a burden on him because Giovanni wants his help, thinking he’s rich because he’s American. Though Hella seems skeptical, she tells David she’ll go anywhere he wants as long as they go together.
Once again, David demonstrates his belief that he can escape his problems simply by moving. This time, he wants to literally get away from Giovanni because he knows that seeing his former lover around the city will cause him too much emotional pain. In this sense, he might be correct that leaving Paris would temporarily ease his troubles, though it’s unlikely that relocating would do anything to quell his inner turmoil regarding his sexual identity.
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Late the next night, David goes to Giovanni’s room. Giovanni is asleep, but he jumps up when the door opens. Seeing that it’s David, he slumps over and starts sobbing as David bends over him and pleads with him to stop. When he collects himself, he says he now realizes that he never really managed to get through to David, suggesting that David was withdrawn for the entirety of their relationship. Calling him evil, he says that it was wrong of David to give him hope about their love. He then tells a story about his life in Italy, where he had a wife whom he loved very much. He could, he says, have stayed in Italy for his entire life, though he knows he would have become a mere tourist attraction for vapid Americans like David who want to marvel at quaint Italians and beautiful landscapes.
In the same way that Jacques once told David that it was cruel to give him a constant sense of hope about their relationship, Giovanni now insists that David is morally wretched because he led him to believe that their love was substantial and lasting. Now that David has left him for Hella, Giovanni realizes that there was never any true future for them, since David is too focused on denying his feelings to sustain a relationship with another man. Perhaps to make David feel guilty, Giovanni tells him about his life in Italy, once again calling upon the differences between their national identities in order to set them apart from one another. In doing so, he frames David as a callous and unemotional American—an identity that aligns with his cruel behavior.
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Giovanni tells David that his wife gave birth to a baby who died in the womb. For hours, Giovanni prayed for his little boy and tried to bring him back to life with holy water, but nothing he did made a difference. When it became clear that the baby was dead, he grabbed a crucifix hanging on the wall, spat on it, and threw it on the floor. He and his wife buried the child the following day, and shortly after that Giovanni left home forever. Now he believes that God has punished him for spitting on that cross.
Whereas David is constantly running from his own sexual identity, Giovanni is running from something else entirely: his past. However, the difference is that Giovanni doesn’t actively deny anything about himself. Instead, he simply wants to create a new life that will enable him to be happy. David, on the other hand, wants to escape himself in ways that will only lead to more sadness. Knowing just how precious life really is, Giovanni understands how tragic it is for somebody like David to waste time making himself miserable, which is most likely why he tells this story in the first place.
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Taken aback by Giovanni’s story, David stands and turns to leave. The room feels claustrophobic and in constant motion, and he hears Giovanni pleading with him to stay. Unable to resist, he goes and wraps his arms around him as Giovanni cries and cries. Trying to reason with him, 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 leaving me for some other reason,” he says. “You lie so much, you have come to believe all your own lies.” He then accuses David of never truly loving anyone at all because he wants to be pure and clean. He says that David is leaving him because he’s afraid of “the stink of love.”
Giovanni knows that David’s inner turmoil is what’s really standing in the way of their relationship. Although David might claim that Hella is the reason he’s leaving, it’s obvious that this is just an excuse he’s using because he can’t commit himself to a long-term relationship with a man. When Giovanni says that David is terrified of “the stink of love,” he frames true romance as messy and raw, playing on David’s fear that his feelings for other men are socially unacceptable. Wanting to present himself as a respectable heterosexual man, David can’t bring himself to embrace his relationship with Giovanni because he sees it as uncouth and wrong. By calling his lover’s attention to this, then, Giovanni tries to force David into at least owning up to his insecurities.
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At a loss, David says that he’s a man, reminding Giovanni that nothing can happen between them because of this simple fact. Unperturbed, Giovanni says that David is perfectly aware 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 in his apartment, he tells David that they should have one last drink together, adding that he doesn’t want to fight anymore. Although his lover is leaving him, Giovanni says, he will always know that David belongs to him. Hearing this, David tells him that he’ll never come back, though he accepts the cognac. While drinking, he tells Giovanni to be careful about spending so much time with Jacques.
David can’t fathom the idea of openly committing himself to a long-term relationship with another man, thinking that two men can never have a future together. However, Giovanni doesn’t let him off the hook so easily, pointing out that David is purposefully denying what their relationship could be so that he doesn’t have to admit to himself that this is exactly what he wants. On another note, David’s warning to Giovanni about Jacques suggests that he is cognizant of just how dangerous it can be to exist in relationships void of true emotion—a somewhat hypocritical realization, considering that he’s the one who has been so careless about Giovanni’s feelings.
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David stays with Giovanni until the early morning. When he’s about to leave, he looks at Giovanni and knows he must get out of his room before he loses his willpower. Walking on the street, he recognizes that he will cry about this day in the future, though he keeps 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 father and starts preparing to move to southern France, where he and Hella have rented a house.
It’s quite telling that David has to quickly leave Giovanni behind in order to go through with his plan to marry Hella. This suggests that he isn’t as in control of his emotions as he’d like to think, though he does manage to force himself away from Giovanni, thereby proving his unfortunate ability to act against his true desires. In the ensuing period, he and Hella plan their trip, giving him yet another opportunity to try to outrun his demons.
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In the days before David and Hella leave Paris, David sometimes bumps into Giovanni and Jacques. During these encounters, he notices a change in Giovanni, who’s always dressed in beautiful clothes that clearly belong to Jacques. Despite this, he looks unhealthy, and David is unsettled by how much he laughs at Jacques’s jokes. He doesn’t want to know what kind relationship Jacques and Giovanni have developed, but Jacques salaciously and proudly makes it obvious to David one day that they’re sleeping together. During this conversation, Giovanni is quite drunk and acting unlike himself, and David begins to hate his former lover for forcing him to recognize how unhappy he’s made him.
The dynamic between Jacques and Giovanni is similar to the arrangement Giovanni used to have with Guillaume, since it’s obvious that their connection is based on nothing but what each of them selfishly want. Giovanni, for his part, needs money and stability, so he sleeps with Jacques, who wants Giovanni’s companionship. When David recognizes this, he begins to resent Giovanni because he realizes that he himself is responsible for this unfortunate arrangement. Unable to hold himself accountable, then, he begins to feel spiteful toward Giovanni, which is how he always responds to situations that encourage him to think honestly about himself.
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Soon enough, David starts seeing Giovanni around Paris without Jacques. No longer dressed in nice clothes, he spends time with a group of rough young men on the streets—people he used to think of as detestable. When David is drunk and wandering through the city one night, he sees one of these boys and recognizes him as Giovanni’s new boyfriend. David buys him a drink, and the young man tells him that Giovanni is no longer with Jacques. He also says that Guillaume might give Giovanni his job back. Within the week, though, authorities find Guillaume dead in the upstairs part of his bar with the sash of his dressing gown wrapped around his neck.  
By this point, it’s apparent that Giovanni is in a downward spiral. Without David’s love or any money, he has no choice but to turn to Guillaume, a person he detests. This undoubtedly makes David feel even worse about what he’s done, since Giovanni most likely wouldn’t return to Guillaume if he were still living with David. In this regard, then, David’s inability to accept their relationship has a profoundly negative impact on Giovanni’s life. 
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