Giovanni’s Room

by

James Baldwin

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Giovanni’s Room: Part 2: Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
News of Guillaume’s murder travels throughout Paris. The newspapers run long pieces about the details of the incident, speculating about Giovanni and his background. Meanwhile, Giovanni has gone into hiding, since all the evidence so clearly points to him as the murderer. Interestingly enough, David observes that the papers begin to overlook Guillaume’s reputation as the owner of a gay bar. Because Guillaume belongs to one of the oldest and most respected families in France, reporters focus on his lineage, lamenting the fact that he was the one of the country’s last living members of a different age. Giovanni, on the other hand, receives widespread animosity in the press because he’s a foreigner—something that upsets David, who complains to Hella about the fact that Guillaume was nothing but a “disgusting old fairy.”
That David’s decision drove Giovanni back to Guillaume is worth keeping in mind, since this is what eventually led Giovanni to murder his former employer. Because of this, David’s guilt certainly amplifies during this period. Furthermore, the fact that the press speaks badly about Giovanni because he’s an immigrant demonstrates how suspicious society can be of people who are different. As for David, he remains stranded between his American identity and whatever lifestyle he wanted to build in France—a lifestyle that has led to nothing but unhappiness.
Themes
Travel, Identity, and Emotional Escape Theme Icon
Money, Sex, and Exploitation Theme Icon
Surprised by David’s anger toward the press, Hella asks why he’s so surprised to discover that Giovanni is a murder. After all, he lived with him, Hella points out, meaning that he should have sensed Giovanni would be capable of such a crime. In response, David insists that it’s impossible to truly know anyone, suggesting that Hella would have no way of knowing if he—David—were a murderer.
When David says that it’s impossible to fully know anybody, he indirectly references the fact that Hella doesn’t know his true identity as a gay or bisexual man. Once again, then, he finds a way to casually acknowledge everything he tries to hide, working his secrets into conversation without actually revealing anything he isn’t ready to admit.
Themes
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
Giovanni remains hidden for a week. During this time, David often looks out the window and scans the city with his eyes, wondering where his former lover is and how he’s surviving. Then, shortly after the newspapers suggest that he’s escaped to Argentina, the police find him hiding in a houseboat along the Seine. When David looks at Giovanni’s mugshot in the papers, he feels as if he is staring out at him and asking for help, though David knows there’s nothing he can do.
David’s feeling of helplessness accentuates his guilt. Although his decision to leave Giovanni eventually led to this situation, he is now powerless to help Giovanni. In turn, David is forced to simply sit with the knowledge that Giovanni’s present misery is the far-reaching result of his own inability to be honest about his emotions.
Themes
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
David imagines the night of Guillaume’s murder, knowing that Giovanni must not have intended to kill him. Envisioning the entire scene, he sees Giovanni preparing to return to Guillaume’s bar, having decided that he’s willing to do whatever the old man wants. After all, he has already submitted to Jacques, so he might as well please Guillaume so he can have his job back. Arriving at the bar very drunk, Giovanni approaches Guillaume and tells him he wants a job, explaining—much to Guillaume’s delight—that David has left him. After having a drink, Guillaume tells him to return after closing, so Giovanni retreats and continues to drink with his friends. When he comes back, Guillaume takes him upstairs and changes into his silk robe.  
Giovanni drinks heavily before confronting Guillaume because he knows that he will have to surrender his dignity in order to get his job back. This, of course, is how exploitative relationships work—Giovanni has to give something up in order to gain something in return. The fact that he’s actually willing to do this underscores just how desperate he is, thereby emphasizing the profound effect David’s decisions have had on his life.
Themes
Money, Sex, and Exploitation Theme Icon
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Guillaume touches Giovanni and has his way with him, instructing him to take off his clothes. For a moment, Giovanni hesitates, feeling as if he can’t go through with his plan. However, he remembers how badly he needs a job, so he forces himself to stay and lets Guillaume overwhelm him like an ocean tide pulling him underwater. When it’s all over, Guillaume stands and starts pacing, telling Giovanni that he can’t possibly hire him again. As he listens, Giovanni works himself into a rage, and before he knows what he’s doing, he beats Guillaume to the ground and coils the sash of his dressing gown around his neck, strangling him to death before running into the streets.
Through Giovanni’s murder of Guillaume, Baldwin illustrates the dangerous nature of exploitative relationships. In these types of arrangement, the power inevitably becomes imbalanced. As soon as one party has an inordinate amount of influence over the other, the dynamic can become quite volatile. Because Guillaume takes advantage of Giovanni and makes it impossible for the young man to gain anything in return, Giovanni loses his temper. In turn, readers come to recognize the explosive emotions that lurk within relationships based on manipulation.
Themes
Money, Sex, and Exploitation Theme Icon
David already doesn’t want to be in Southern France by the time he and Hella move into the house they’ve rented. By this point, he knows he can’t be happy with Hella, but he goes through the motions anyway. Jacques sends him frequent updates about Giovanni’s case, sending word about what his lawyer has said, though it’s clear that nothing can be done to save Giovanni from execution. This is especially true because Giovanni pleads guilty and is sent to prison to wait for his trial.
David’s troubles don’t magically disappear once he moves to Southern France. Although he likes to think that moving will help him escape his emotional turmoil, he sees that this isn’t the case when he’s forced to languish in the countryside while his lover awaits execution.
Themes
Travel, Identity, and Emotional Escape Theme Icon
Although David knows there’s nothing he can do for Giovanni, he hopes that Hella will be able to help him lead a happy life. When Giovanni’s trail arrives and he’s sentenced to death, though, David understands that nothing Hella can do would ever chip away at his misery. In the following weeks, then, his love slowly turns to resentment and hatred, as he notices that her body no longer appeals to him even in the slightest. He also withdraws from her emotionally, and whenever she asks what’s bothering him, he pushes her away. One day, though, she guesses that he’s upset about Giovanni, and he finds himself unable to deny this. Going on, she speculates that David thinks it’s his fault that Giovanni killed Guillaume. Wanting to make him feel better, she insists that there’s nothing he could have done to help his friend.
Hella’s attempt to make David feel better is kindhearted, but she knows so little about the actual situation that her thoughts are meaningless to David. Without knowing how David treated Giovanni, she can’t say anything to soothe him. In this regard, then, his secrecy isolates him from the people to whom he’s closest, leaving him to sort through his complicated emotions on his own.
Themes
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
“He was so beautiful,” David says without meaning to. For a moment, Hella just stares at him, so he continues, saying that he feels responsible for Giovanni’s decline. He then tells Hella that Giovanni wanted him to continue living with him, and Hella says that Giovanni must have been in love with him. When David turns to hide his face, she tells him that it’s not his fault, insisting that he couldn’t have stopped Giovanni from loving him. In response, David lashes out at her, saying she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Relenting a bit, he asks her to leave him alone, saying he just needs time. This, however, prompts Hella to say that they’ve been languishing in France for too long. She wants, she says, to get married and return to the United States to start a family. 
Because Hella doesn’t know anything about his relationship with Giovanni, she doesn’t know how to help him sort through his emotions. This is why David tries to tell her as much of the truth as possible, hoping that she’ll be able to grasp the situation enough to help him deal with his feelings. However, he refuses to admit that he was in love with Giovanni. When he yells at Hella for saying that he couldn’t stop Giovanni from loving him, he takes his anger out on her even though he’s actually angry with himself and his own inability to be truthful about his romantic feelings.
Themes
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
Travel, Identity, and Emotional Escape Theme Icon
One night shortly after talking to Hella about Giovanni’s love for him, David goes to Nice and gets profoundly drunk. After walking the streets in search of a man, he finds a sailor who takes him to his hotel. David spends the next two days with this sailor and his friends, drinking heavily and having lots of sex. On the last night of their time together, they sit in a crowded bar. All of a sudden, Hella appears behind David. When he turns to face her, he can think of nothing to say. “Hasn’t she got the wrong bar?” the sailor asks. “It’s not the only thing I got wrong,” Hella says before leaving.
It was only a matter of time before Hella discovered David’s infidelity and attraction to men. Even though David left Giovanni in an attempt to commit himself to a heterosexual lifestyle, he still finds himself seeking out romantic encounters with men, unable to fully deny his sexual orientation but also unable to outwardly acknowledge it.
Themes
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
David follows Hella out of the bar, and she tells him that she’s going back to the United States, wishing aloud that she never left in the first place. Later, as she packs her bags, she tells David that she might forget how to be a woman if she continues to live with him, saying that she still understands that being a woman doesn’t have to mean enduring constant humiliation. Despite the way he has treated her, she says, she still knows that she deserves more than scorn and disgrace. In response, David says that he hopes she can understand that he wasn’t just lying to her, but also to himself. Furthermore, he tells her that he didn’t mean to hurt her, but she merely laments the fact that she always knew—on some level—that he was attracted to men.
It’s interesting that Hella says she might forget how to be a woman if she stayed with David. This would suggest that existing in a loveless relationship can ruin a person’s femininity, meaning that Hella defines womanhood in terms of heterosexuality. In the same way that David sees masculinity as directly tied to a man’s attraction to women, Hella sees femininity as linked to a woman’s ability to be desired by men. This, it’s worth noting, is a rather patriarchal view that conflicts with her previous ideas about female independence. Still, the fact that Hella wanted to get married despite her misgivings about society’s sexism suggests that she is willing to sacrifice her own individuality to fit society’s mold of what a woman should be: a wife and a mother.
Themes
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
Gender and Societal Expectations Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Before she leaves, Hella tells David that it was unfair for him to simply wait for her to find out about his true nature. She refers to this as a burden David placed on her, saying that she had every right to wait for him to be truthful. After all, she points out, women are supposed to wait for the man’s lead. Given this, she asks what a woman should do when a man refuses to take the lead. She also says that she might never be able to find happiness in love, since she cared so much about David and will inevitably think about him every time she embraces another lover. Having packed her things, she loads her suitcases into the taxi she called, holds out her hand, lets David grasp it, and says farewell.
When Hella tells David that it was cruel of him to hide the truth from her, Baldwin invites readers to consider just how thoroughly David’s denial has affected the people in his life. Because he struggles to accept his sexual identity, he has deceived Hella and made her life considerably harder. The fact that she thinks she’ll never be able to love again is a testament to how much his behavior has impacted her entire life, demonstrating that self-deception has grave consequences not just for the people who trick themselves, but for the people influenced by this dishonesty.
Themes
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
Still gazing out the window, David watches the first hints of morning light strain over the horizon of southern France. His bags are packed and the house is clean. He is about to leave for Paris. Next to him on the table sits an envelope with a letter from Jacques—the letter that informed David that Giovanni will be executed this morning for Guillaume’s murder. As David undresses to change into the clothes he’ll wear while traveling, he envisions Giovanni’s final moments. Avoiding the image of his own naked body in the mirror, he thinks about Giovanni’s face as the guards come to get him. Giovanni yelps when they grab him but otherwise lets them lead him down the hall. David begins to sweat as he imagines Giovanni approaching the priest who will bless him before his death.
As David imagines the scene of Giovanni’s execution, readers come to understand that he will live with the guilt of what he’s done for the rest of his life. Not only is his lover about to die, but he blames this death on his own inability to be truthful with himself. At the same time, though, this doesn’t mean he’ll finally be able to honestly embrace his true identity, as signified by the fact that he actively avoids looking at himself in the mirror—a representation of his unwillingness to engage in genuine introspection.
Themes
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
Envisioning Giovanni walking toward the room in which he will be executed, David turns and faces his naked reflection in the mirror. Staring at himself, he realizes that his body is a mystery, and he comes to see that he doesn’t understand the feelings it hides. Looking at his penis, he thinks the answer to all his problems exists somewhere inside of him, hidden. Suddenly, he sees the door to the executioner’s room. It opens and Giovanni moves through it, angling down as the ground meets his vision and cuts to darkness. Only then does David will himself to move away from the mirror and dress, hoping desperately that God will deliver him from his misery. 
David’s sudden willingness to examine himself in the mirror seems at first like a sign that he might finally start being honest with himself about his sexual identity. However, the only realization he draws from looking at his reflection is that his body is a mystery. This, it seems, is yet another way of denying his true identity, since he chooses to think of himself as an enigma instead of acknowledging that he’s gay or bisexual. Furthermore, when he hopes that God will help him, he once again takes the impetus off of himself to figure out his own problems, wanting someone else to do the emotional labor of helping him find happiness. Because of this mindset, then, it seems likely that he will continue to torture himself by refusing to embrace his true nature.
Themes
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Leaving the house, David locks the door and walks to the side of the road. Stopping for a moment, he takes out the letter Jacques sent him and tears it up, letting the small pieces of paper drift away on the wind. As he walks toward the bus stop, though, some of the shreds of paper circle back and gust toward him once more.
David’s decision to rip up Jacques’s letter spotlights his desire to put his relationship with Giovanni behind him. Wanting nothing more than to move on, he tries to cast away any memory of Giovanni. However, the pieces of paper circle back on the wind, suggesting that it’s impossible to simply repress and forget true romance. In this way, Baldwin hints that David will struggle against the memory of Giovanni for the rest of his life.
Themes
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