Go Tell It on the Mountain

by

James Baldwin

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Elizabeth Character Analysis

Gabriel’s wife, and mother to John, Roy, Sarah, and Ruth. After Elizabeth’s mother dies when Elizabeth is just eight years old, Elizabeth’s aunt insists that Elizabeth’s father, who runs a “house” of ill repute, is an unfit father, and she forces Elizabeth to move to Maryland to live with her. Elizabeth’s aunt is cruel for no reason and treats Elizabeth badly. Elizabeth is miserable until she meets Richard, a young and “nervous” black man from the South whom she quickly falls in love with. Elizabeth and Richard move North to New York, hoping to escape the violence and racism of the South, and it isn’t long before Elizabeth is pregnant. Society and Elizabeth’s religion insist that she is immoral because she has had sex out of wedlock, and while she wants to marry Richard, she doesn’t want to pressure him. She keeps her pregnancy a secret, and he later kills himself after being falsely accused and tried for robbing a “white man’s store.” Elizabeth is left feeling ashamed and responsible. She believes Richard wouldn’t have killed himself had he known about the baby, and she still has to contend with the fact that society considers her a harlot and a sinner because her baby is a “bastard.” John is later born, and Elizabeth struggles to care for him herself until Gabriel comes along and promises to love them both. Of course, he doesn’t, and he uses both Elizabeth and John to try to make up for his own sins and shortcomings. Gabriel repeatedly makes Elizabeth and John feel like evil sinners because of the circumstance of John’s birth, and Baldwin draws attention to the tragedy of the sexist assumptions that having a child out of wedlock makes both woman and child evil sinners. Elizabeth and John are both exceptional people, held up to impossible standards by a hypocritical religion that, Baldwin implies, only seeks to oppress them. Through the character of Elizabeth, Baldwin argues that sex outside of marriage does not make one immoral—Elizabeth loved Richard, and she deeply loves John, and there is nothing sinful about that.

Elizabeth Quotes in Go Tell It on the Mountain

The Go Tell It on the Mountain quotes below are all either spoken by Elizabeth or refer to Elizabeth. 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 1: The Seventh Day Quotes

Through a storm of tears that did not reach his eyes, he stared at the yellow room; and the room shifted, the light of the sun darkened, and his mother’s face changed. Her face became the face that he gave her in his dreams, the face that had been hers in a photograph he had seen once, long ago, a photograph taken before he was born. This face was young and proud, uplifted, with a smile that made the wide mouth beautiful and glowed in the enormous eyes. It was the face of a girl who knew that no evil could undo her, and who could laugh, surely, as his mother did not laugh now. Between the two faces there stretched a darkness and a mystery that John feared, and that sometimes caused him to hate her.

Related Characters: John, Gabriel, Elizabeth
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2: The Prayers of the Saints: Gabriel’s Prayer Quotes

The living son had cursed him—bastard—and his heart was far from God; it could not be that the curse he had heard tonight falling from Roy’s lips was but the curse repeated, so far, so long resounding, that the mother of his first son had uttered as she thrust the infant from her—herself immediately departing, this curse yet on her lips, into eternity. Her curse had devoured the first Royal; he had been begotten in sin, and he had perished in sin; it was God’s punishment, and it was just. But Roy had been begotten in the marriage bed, the bed that Paul described as holy, and it was to him the Kingdom had been promised. It could not be that the living son was cursed for the sins of his father; for God, after much groaning, after many years, had given him a sign to make him know he was forgiven. And yet, it came to him that this living son, this headlong, living Royal, might be cursed for the sin of his mother, whose sin had never been truly repented; for that the living proof of her sin, he who knelt tonight, a very interloper among the saints, stood between her soul and God.

Related Characters: John, Gabriel, Elizabeth, Esther, Roy, Royal
Page Number: 130
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2: The Prayers of the Saints: Elizabeth’s Prayer Quotes

No, she did not accuse him; but she accused her aunt, and this from the moment she understood that her aunt had loved her mother, but did not love him. This could only mean that her aunt could not love her, either, and nothing in her life with her aunt ever proved Elizabeth wrong. It was true that her aunt was always talking of how much she loved her sister’s daughter, and what great sacrifices she had made on her account, and what great care she took to see to it that Elizabeth should grow up a good, Christian girl. But Elizabeth was not for a moment fooled, and did not, for as long as she lived with her, fail to despise her aunt. She sensed that what her aunt spoke of as love was something else—a bribe, a threat, an indecent will to power. She knew that the kind of imprisonment that love might impose was also, mysteriously, a freedom for the soul and spirit, was water in the dry place, and had nothing to do with the prisons, churches, laws, rewards, and punishments, that so positively cluttered the landscape of her aunt’s mind.

Page Number: 182-183
Explanation and Analysis:

Richard said that they would marry as soon as he had saved some money. But since he was going to school at night and made very little money, their marriage, which she had thought of as taking place almost as soon as she arrived, was planned for a future that grew ever more remote. And this presented her with a problem that she had refused, at home in Maryland, to think about, but from which, now, she could not escape: the problem of their life together. […] She had kept, precariously enough, what her aunt referred to as her pearl without price while she had been with Richard down home. This, which she had taken as witness to her own feminine moral strength, had been due to nothing more, it now developed, than her great fear of her aunt, and the lack, in that small town, of opportunity. Here, in this great city where no one cared, where people might live in the same building for years and never speak to one another, she found herself, when Richard took her in his arms, on the edge of a steep place: and down she rushed, on the descent uncaring, into the dreadful sea.

Related Characters: Elizabeth, Richard, Elizabeth’s Aunt
Related Symbols: Mountains
Page Number: 190-191
Explanation and Analysis:

There was not, after all, a great difference between the world of the North and that of the South which she had fled; there was only this difference: the North promised more. And this similarity: what it promised it did not give, and what it gave, at length and grudgingly with one hand, it took back with the other. Now she understood in this nervous, hollow, ringing city, that nervousness of Richard’s which had so attracted her—a tension so total, and so without the hope, or possibility of release, or resolution, that she felt it in his muscles, and heard it in his breathing, even as on her breast he fell asleep.

Related Characters: Elizabeth, Richard
Page Number: 192
Explanation and Analysis:

“I just decided me one day that I was going to get to know everything them white bastards knew, and I was going to get to know it better than them, so could no white son-of-a-bitch nowhere never talk me down, and never make me feel like I was dirt, when I could read him the alphabet, back, front, and sideways. Shit—he weren’t going to beat my ass, then. And if he tried to kill me, I’d take him with me, I swear to my mother I would.” Then he looked at her again, and smiled and kissed her, and he said: “That’s how I got to know so much, baby.”

Related Characters: Richard (speaker), Elizabeth
Page Number: 196-197
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Go Tell It on the Mountain LitChart as a printable PDF.
Go Tell It on the Mountain PDF

Elizabeth Character Timeline in Go Tell It on the Mountain

The timeline below shows where the character Elizabeth 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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Gender, the Patriarchy, and Misogyny Theme Icon
...mornings with his family. His father, Gabriel, would lead them in prayer, and his mother, Elizabeth, “looked almost young” in her best dresses and “straightened hair.” John’s younger brother, Roy, was... (full context)
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...Fire Baptized, is just a few blocks from their Harlem home, near the local hospital. Elizabeth has given birth to most of her children at the hospital, and each time she... (full context)
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...done it with some girls down the block,” liked to watch. John’s parents, Gabriel and Elizabeth, who go to church, do “it too,” and sometimes John listens to them, “over the... (full context)
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...early morning, John falls asleep and wakes again to the sound of Roy arguing with Elizabeth. John enters the kitchen where his brother and mother are fighting. The room is “narrow... (full context)
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John looks at Elizabeth’s “perpetual scowl.” His mother looks differently in his dreams. There, she is “young and proud,”... (full context)
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Elizabeth and Roy continue their argument, which is about Gabriel. “One thing you can’t say,” Elizabeth... (full context)
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“Is Daddy a good man?” John asks Elizabeth without thinking. “Looks to me like he’s a mighty good man,” Sarah says. “He sure... (full context)
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“You listen to your father,” Elizabeth says to Roy, “I guarantee you, you won’t end up in no jail.” Roy becomes... (full context)
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...his nakedness. There is a photo of Gabriel’s sister, John’s Aunt Florence, and one of Elizabeth taken after her marriage to John’s father. There is even a photo of Gabriel, taken... (full context)
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...“boys in the street, heedless and thoughtless, wearing out his treacherous and bewildering body.” Suddenly, Elizabeth calls to him from the kitchen. He goes to her, and she holds out her... (full context)
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John smiles and takes the money. “I know,” Elizabeth says, “there’s a whole lot of things you don’t understand.” Her words are kind as... (full context)
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...be having some questions to ask you in a minute, old lady,” Gabriel yells to Elizabeth. “I’m going to be wanting to know just how come you let this boy go... (full context)
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Elizabeth reminds Gabriel that Roy had tried to cut the white boys too and wasn’t exactly... (full context)
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Gabriel looks at Elizabeth and, “with all his might,” reaches out and “slaps her across the face.” Roy sits... (full context)
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The church doors again open, and Gabriel walks in with Elizabeth and Florence. John has never actually seen Florence in church before, but now it seems... (full context)
Part 2: The Prayers of the Saints: Gabriel’s Prayer
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...sin”—and Gabriel suddenly realizes that Roy “might be cursed for the sin of his mother, [Elizabeth,] whose sin had never been truly repented.” John, the “living proof” of Elizabeth’s sin, “stood... (full context)
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Gabriel once asked Elizabeth if she had “truly repented.” She said she had, but Gabriel isn’t so sure. “Would... (full context)
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...to John, who has the “eyes of Satan,” and stares “in wrath and horror at Elizabeth’s presumptuous bastard boy.” Gabriel wants to “strike him,” but instead he silently mouths: “Kneel down.”... (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 herself to listen.” This... (full context)
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If Elizabeth’s aunt is still alive, Elizabeth thinks, she must be very old by now. She never... (full context)
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Elizabeth’s mother “had been very fair, and beautiful.” Her health was always poor, and Elizabeth “scarcely”... (full context)
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Elizabeth’s father was “different.” He was “young, and handsome, and kind, and generous,” and Elizabeth was... (full context)
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Elizabeth’s father had been the one to teach Elizabeth never to let the world see her... (full context)
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After Elizabeth’s mother died, Elizabeth’s aunt insisted Elizabeth move in with her. She said Elizabeth’s father was... (full context)
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Elizabeth never “judged her father,” and “she did not accuse him.” She loved him, and while... (full context)
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As the church sings the nostalgic hymn, Elizabeth thinks of Richard. He had been the one to take Elizabeth to the North. He... (full context)
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Once, Elizabeth had gone into the store without her aunt, and Richard had flirted with her. He... (full context)
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Richard hated the South and planned on going to New York, and he wanted Elizabeth to come with him so they could get married. Elizabeth agreed, and she told her... (full context)
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In the winter of 1920, Elizabeth moved to “an ugly back room in Harlem” in Madame William’s home, where the old... (full context)
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Elizabeth often wondered back then if she was no better than the women in her father’s... (full context)
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Elizabeth and Richard often went to museums, and she had been shocked the first time he... (full context)
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One night, after spending the entire evening together, Richard left Elizabeth at Madame Williams’s and went to catch the subway home. He was planning on coming... (full context)
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The police officers forced Elizabeth down to the police station where “she some how got past their brutal laughter.” The... (full context)
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Elizabeth was finally allowed to see Richard the next day in the jail where he was... (full context)
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Elizabeth had known for some time that she was pregnant, but she didn’t want to worry... (full context)
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...off so easily.” When he returned home, he fell to his bed and wept, and Elizabeth thought it still a bad time to tell him about the baby. That night, Richard... (full context)
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Elizabeth’s thoughts are interrupted by a new song and singing in the church. She continues her... (full context)
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Elizabeth first met Gabriel through Florence when John was only six months old. Elizabeth and John... (full context)
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One afternoon, Elizabeth took John to Florence’s house for a visit, and he instantly took to the older... (full context)
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Florence told Elizabeth that Gabriel was “some kind of preacher,” but when they were younger, he did nothing... (full context)
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Suddenly, Elizabeth broke down and cried. “You see this wedding ring?” she asked Florence. “Well, I bought... (full context)
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Elizabeth met Gabriel a few weeks later. She again took John to Florence’s house, and on... (full context)
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Florence, Gabriel, and Elizabeth sat and visited, while John fell asleep to the sound of the blues. From that... (full context)
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Florence “did not approve” of Elizabeth’s relationship with Gabriel, and she was vocal of this from the start, but she never... (full context)
Part 3: The Threshing-Floor
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...going to be able to do to me.” She tells him that she will give Elizabeth the letter and tell everyone that “the Lord’s anointed” has “blood on his hands.” It... (full context)
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...house to rest before Sunday morning service. John can feel Gabriel standing behind him and Elizabeth is standing on the front steps of their home, waiting for them to come inside.... (full context)