Go Tell It on the Mountain

by

James Baldwin

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Deborah Character Analysis

Florence’s closest friend and Gabriel’s first wife. As a young girl, Deborah is brutally raped by a group of white men, and because of this, her community looks at her with “reproach” as if she is a “harlot.” Deborah’s poor treatment reflects America’s sexist society. She is assaulted and raped through no fault of her own, yet she is the one who is punished not her rapists. Deborah’s rapists “robbed her of the right to be considered a woman,” and as a result, she resents men. Society assumes that women must be pure and sexually untainted, and Deborah’s tragic experience means that she is no longer a woman in their eyes. Deborah is convinced that “all men” are awful, and that “they live only to gratify on the bodies of women their brutal and humiliating needs,” which indeed proves to be the case with many of the men in Baldwin’s novel. Because of Deborah’s rape, she dedicates her life to God, “like a terrible example of humility, or like a holy fool.” Deborah is kind and tends to the sick, she is helpful to others, and she even tells Gabriel that she would have accepted Royal as her own regardless of what others said. Deborah is a good and righteous woman—the “greatest saint” and “the Lord’s peculiar treasure and most holy vessel”—yet she is viewed as wicked because of her rape. She dies halfway through the novel of a chronic and nondescript illness. Through Deborah, Baldwin simultaneously argues that Deborah’s rape is not a mark against her own morality but against her rapists, and that sex and morality are not mutually exclusive.

Deborah Quotes in Go Tell It on the Mountain

The Go Tell It on the Mountain quotes below are all either spoken by Deborah or refer to Deborah. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
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). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of Go Tell It on the Mountain published in 2013.
Part 2: The Prayers of the Saints: Florence’s Prayer Quotes

When men looked at Deborah they saw no further than her unlovely and violated body. In their eyes lived perpetually a lewd, uneasy wonder concerning the night she had been taken in the fields. That night had robbed her of the right to be considered a woman. No man would approach her in honor because she was a living reproach, to herself and to all black women and to all black men. […] Since she could not be considered a woman, she could only be looked on as a harlot, a source of delight more bestial and mysteries more shaking than any a proper woman could provide. Lust stirred in the eyes of men when they looked at Deborah, lust that could not be endured because it was so impersonal, limiting communion to the area of her shame. And Florence, who was beautiful but did not look with favor on any of the black men who lusted after her, […] reinforced in Deborah the terrible belief against which no evidence had ever presented itself: that all men were like this, their thoughts rose no higher, and they lived only to gratify on the bodies of women their brutal and humiliating needs.

Related Characters: Florence, Deborah
Page Number: 79-80
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2: The Prayers of the Saints: Gabriel’s Prayer Quotes

Again, there was her legend, her history, which would have been enough, even had she not been so wholly unattractive, to put her forever beyond the gates of any honorable man’s desire. This, indeed, in her silent, stolid fashion, she seemed to know: where, it might be, other women held as their very charm and secret the joy that they could give and share, she contained only the shame that she had borne—shame, unless a miracle of human love delivered her, was all she had to give. And she moved, therefore, through their small community like a woman mysteriously visited by God, like a terrible example of humility, or like a holy fool. […]There were people in the church, and even men carrying the gospel, who mocked Deborah behind her back; but their mockery was uneasy; they could never be certain but that they might be holding up to scorn the greatest saint among them, the Lord’s peculiar treasure and most holy vessel.

Related Characters: Gabriel, Deborah
Page Number: 110
Explanation and Analysis:

“I asked my God to forgive me,” he said. “But I didn’t want no harlot’s son.”

“Esther weren’t no harlot,” she said quietly.

“She weren’t my wife. I couldn’t make her my wife. I already had you”—and he said the last words with venom “Esther’s mind weren’t on the Lord—she’d of dragged me right on down to Hell with her.”

“She mighty near has,” said Deborah.

Related Characters: Gabriel (speaker), Deborah (speaker), Esther, Royal
Page Number: 173
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Go Tell It on the Mountain LitChart as a printable PDF.
Go Tell It on the Mountain PDF

Deborah Character Timeline in Go Tell It on the Mountain

The timeline below shows where the character Deborah appears in Go Tell It on the Mountain. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1: The Seventh Day
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...Gabriel, taken long ago in the South when he was married to a woman named Deborah, who is “now in Heaven.” John finds it strange thinking about Deborah. Had she lived,... (full context)
Part 2: The Prayers of the Saints: Florence’s Prayer
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...of the destroying angel,” Rachel would say. One night, Rachel began to pray especially hard. Deborah, a local sixteen-year-old girl, had been attacked by “many white men” who made her “cry... (full context)
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Florence had become good friends with Deborah after Deborah’s “accident,” and together they “hated all men.” Both men and women considered Deborah... (full context)
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...despised him. “I hate him!” she would yell. “Big, black, prancing tomcat of a [n_____]!” Deborah would try to talk sense to her. “You know, honey,” Deborah would say, “the Word... (full context)
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...Florence is an “old woman, and all alone,” and she is dying. She thinks of Deborah, who married Gabriel and kept in touch after Florence moved North. Florence has a letter... (full context)
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“[Deborah] say she think my brother’s got a bastard living right there in the same town... (full context)
Part 2: The Prayers of the Saints: Gabriel’s Prayer
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...the “power” known only to “God’s anointed,” but he took his time coming to God. Deborah would often visit Rachel, and she looked at Gabriel “with eyes that were no less... (full context)
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...At only twenty-one, he began preaching. He moved to a room in town and married Deborah later that year. After Rachel had died, Deborah “looked after him,” cooking his meals and... (full context)
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There was also Deborah’s “legend, her history,” which was enough to turn Gabriel off, and she was “wholly unattractive.”... (full context)
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Before Gabriel had married Deborah, he was asked to preach at the Twenty-Four Elders Revival Meeting, a summer revival that... (full context)
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Later that week, Gabriel sat with the other preachers at Sunday dinner, where Deborah was a “serving woman.” Gabriel “was not comfortable” with the other preachers. He considered them... (full context)
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As the preachers laughed at Deborah’s expense, Gabriel grew angry. “That woman,” he said, “is my sister in the Lord.” The... (full context)
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...field.” The voice again spoke. “Follow me,” it said. The very next day Gabriel asked Deborah to be his wife, and she wept. (full context)
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...big blue hat and dark red dress. As Gabriel preached, he watched both Esther and Deborah, and he realized how “black,” “bony,” and “wholly undesirable” his wife was, and he “hated... (full context)
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...tried to “wear out his visions” in his “marriage bed,” where he “struggled to awaken Deborah.” Gabriel’s contempt for his wife grew by the day. (full context)
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...a wife to think about,” Gabriel said. Esther had hoped that since he “forgot about [Deborah] once,” he would be able to “forget her twice.” (full context)
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Esther told Gabriel that Deborah would never “make him happy,” and “she ain’t never going to have no children,” she... (full context)
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That night, Gabriel took the money Deborah had been saving since they were married. He sent Esther to Chicago and took a... (full context)
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That summer, Gabriel again preached out of town. He couldn’t stand being at home with Deborah, going to his own church every day. As he preached at distant churches, he saw... (full context)
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...his father and a stranger to God.” After Royal came to live with his grandparents, Deborah became “friendly” with them and frequently bought Gabriel news of the young boy’s life. (full context)
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“I wonder,” Deborah said to Gabriel one day, “why [Esther] called him Royal? You reckon that his daddy’s... (full context)
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The morning that Gabriel learned of Royal’s death, Deborah was sick in bed as she often was. “I hear some mighty bad news today,”... (full context)
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“I asked my God to forgive me,” Gabriel told Deborah. “But I didn’t want no harlot’s son.” Deborah was quiet. “Esther weren’t no harlot,” she... (full context)
Part 3: The Threshing-Floor
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...to Gabriel, “we’s all going to be together there. [Rachel], and you, and me, and Deborah—and what was the name of that little girl who died not long after I left... (full context)
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...fool Him like you fool men, and you think He forgets, like men.” She pulls Deborah’s letter from her purse and tells him she has carried it for more than thirty... (full context)
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Deborah was cut down,” Florence says to Gabriel, “but she left word. She weren’t no enemy... (full context)