Go Tell It on the Mountain

by

James Baldwin

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Elisha Character Analysis

Father James’s nephew and a young preacher in John’s Harlem church. Elisha is handsome and kind, and John is very obviously attracted to him. John looks up to Elisha because he is young but still saved and a preacher, and he is John’s primary role model. Father James publicly condemns Elisha after church one day for “walking disorderly” with Ella Mae, even though their relationship was innocent and nothing inappropriate happened. Father James’s criticism of Elisha reflects the oppressive nature of religion and the assumption that to engage in sex before marriage means that one is also a sinner. Father James makes an example out of Elisha, even though he hadn’t sinned, and Elisha never again spends time with Ella Mae. Their friendship suffers because of religion, which, Baldwin suggests, should enhance and enrich relationships not destroy them. Despite Father James’s criticism, however, Elisha is an exceedingly holy man, and when he goes to the threshing-floor, he is so moved by the Holy Spirit that he speaks in tongues. Elisha is at the church the night John is saved on the threshing-floor, and he helps John through the darkness with prayer.

Elisha Quotes in Go Tell It on the Mountain

The Go Tell It on the Mountain quotes below are all either spoken by Elisha or refer to Elisha. 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:
Faith and Religion Theme Icon
). 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 1: The Seventh Day Quotes

It seemed that he could not breathe, that his body could not contain this passion, that he would be, before their eyes, dispersed into the waiting air. His hands, rigid to the very fingertips, moved outward and back against his hips, his sightless eyes looked upward, and he began to dance. Then his hands closed into fists, and his head snapped downward, his sweat loosening the grease that slicked down his hair; and the rhythm of all the others quickened to match Elisha’s rhythm; his thighs moved terribly against the cloth of his suit, his heels beat on the floor, and his fists moved beside his body as though he were beating his own drum. And so, for a while, in the center of the dancers, head down, fists beating, on, on, unbearably, until it seemed the walls of the church would fall for very sound; and then, in a moment, with a cry, head up, arms high in the air, sweat pouring from his forehead, and all his body dancing as though it would never stop. Sometimes he did not stop until he fell—until he dropped like some animal felled by a hammer—moaning, on his face.

Related Characters: John, Elisha
Related Symbols: Music
Page Number: 8-9
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Go Tell It on the Mountain LitChart as a printable PDF.
Go Tell It on the Mountain PDF

Elisha Character Timeline in Go Tell It on the Mountain

The timeline below shows where the character Elisha 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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Appearing “more serious,” however, is hard for John because of Elisha, his Sunday school teacher and Father James’s nephew. Elisha is from Georgia, and at seventeen,... (full context)
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Sunday service always begins with Elisha at the piano. To John, it seems as if “this music has been with [him]”... (full context)
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One Sunday after service, Father James had “uncovered sin in the congregation of the righteous.” Elisha and Ella Mae, a young church member, were seen “walking disorderly” and “were in danger... (full context)
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“Praise the Lord,” Elisha says as he enters the church. John welcomes Elisha and the two begin to banter... (full context)
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“Boy, ain’t it time you was thinking about your soul?” Elisha asks John as they clean. Elisha says John still has “Adam’s mind” and is thinking... (full context)
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“Do you want to be saved, Johnny,” Elisha asks. “I don’t know,” John answers. Elisha asks him to try. “Just fall on your... (full context)
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Sister Price and Sister McCandless visit with Elisha and John a bit, mostly talking about how wonderful Father James is. “Indeed, that is... (full context)
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Elisha plays “This May be My Last Time,” and they all begin to sing. “This may... (full context)
Part 2: The Prayers of the Saints: Gabriel’s Prayer
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Back in the Harlem church, the silence is broken as Elisha cries out and falls backward onto the threshing-floor, “under the power of the Lord.” Gabriel... (full context)
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As Elisha cries out, Gabriel thinks of his sons. Roy had cursed him when he called him... (full context)
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...of the Fire Baptized, Gabriel rises with the rest of the congregation and stands over Elisha on the threshing-floor. John, too, rises and joins them. Suddenly, Elisha begins “to speak in... (full context)
Part 2: The Prayers of the Saints: Elizabeth’s Prayer
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As Elisha speaks in tongues, Elizabeth feels that “the Lord is speaking to her,” and she “humbles... (full context)
Part 3: The Threshing-Floor
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...like a fountain of waters, bursts.” John continues to cry and is faintly aware of Elisha’s voice in the background. “Oh, yes!” Elisha cries. “Bless our God forever!” (full context)
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John walks ahead with Elisha, feeling an “unspeakable joy” flood his heart. “Elisha?” John asks. “It was you, wasn’t it,... (full context)
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Elisha,” John says again, “no matter what happens to me, where I go, what folks say... (full context)