Giovanni’s Room


James Baldwin

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Themes and Colors
Sexual Orientation and Denial Theme Icon
Gender and Societal Expectations Theme Icon
Travel, Identity, and Emotional Escape Theme Icon
Money, Sex, and Exploitation Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Giovanni’s Room, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Sexual Orientation and Denial

A novel about a closeted American man living in Paris in the 1950s, James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room underscores the many miseries of denying one’s true sexual orientation. In particular, David—the novel’s protagonist—denies that he’s attracted to men, and this denial causes him to resent people like Giovanni, whom he loves but can’t bring himself to fully embrace. As a result, he eventually leaves Giovanni for his girlfriend Hella, whom he deceives by…

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Gender and Societal Expectations

In Giovanni’s Room, James Baldwin suggests that societal gender norms often interfere with a person’s sense of self. This happens when David internalizes conventional notions of what it means to be a man, making it hard for him to accurately understand his own masculinity. Because he associates manhood with heterosexuality, he feels that his attraction to Giovanni indicates his failure as a man. Worse, he’s reluctant to question these restrictive conceptions of what defines…

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Travel, Identity, and Emotional Escape

In Giovanni’s Room, David runs from his identity as an American while simultaneously using it to formulate superficial understandings of himself. By leaving the United States for France, he feels as if he can be somewhat more open about his sexual orientation, though it soon becomes clear that this has little to do with France and everything to do with his sense that he can outrun his problems. To that end, he decides he…

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Money, Sex, and Exploitation

In Giovanni’s Room, James Baldwin invites readers to consider the exploitative powers of money and sex, illustrating the various ways in which people use their wealth or sexuality to manipulate others. In particular, Baldwin focuses on the relationships that Jacques and Guillaume (two wealthy, older gay men) have with attractive young men who need financial support. These relationships, Baldwin suggests, have very little to do with love, since both parties are primarily interested in…

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