Go Tell It on the Mountain

by

James Baldwin

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Esther Character Analysis

Royal’s mother and Gabriel’s mistress. Gabriel has an affair with Esther while he is married to Deborah, and this affair results in Royal’s birth. Gabriel associates Esther with “flame” and “the eternal fires of Hell.” She is frequently seen walking with other men, and Gabriel assumes she is a “harlot.” Esther is beautiful and independent, and while she has male friends, she isn’t promiscuous. Gabriel, however, treats her like a whore and claims that her womb is a “forbidden darkness” where his “holy seed” will die. Gabriel assumes that Esther is immoral and a sinner, yet there is no evidence of this outside of her neglect of church. After Esther becomes pregnant, Gabriel steals money from Deborah and sends Esther away to Chicago, where she later dies after giving birth to Royal. Before Esther dies, she writes Gabriel a letter in which she condemns him for his treatment of her and claims she doesn’t need God to “know right from wrong.” This seems to be Baldwin’s overarching argument, and the character of Esther proves that one does not have to be religious to also be moral.

Esther Quotes in Go Tell It on the Mountain

The Go Tell It on the Mountain quotes below are all either spoken by Esther or refer to Esther. 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: 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:

“Yes,” he answered, rising, and turning away, “Satan tempted me and I fell. I ain’t the first man been made to fall on account of a wicked woman.”

“You be careful,” said Esther, “how you talk to me. I ain’t the first girl’s been ruined by a holy man, neither.”

“Ruined?” he cried. “You? How you going to be ruined? When you been walking through this town just like a harlot, and a-kicking up your heels all over the pasture? How you going to stand there and tell me you been ruined? If it hadn’t been me, it sure would have been somebody else.”

Related Characters: Gabriel (speaker), Esther (speaker), Royal
Page Number: 152
Explanation and Analysis:

What I think is, I made a mistake, that's true, and I'm paying for it now. But don't you think you ain't going to pay for it—I don't know when and I don't know how, but I know you going to be brought low one of these fine days. 1 ain't holy like you are, but 1 know right from wrong.

I’m going to have my baby and I’m going to bring him up to be a man. And 1 ain’t going to read to him out of no Bibles and I ain't going to take him to hear no preaching. If he don't drink nothing but moonshine all his natural days he be a better man than his Daddy.

Related Characters: Esther (speaker), Gabriel, Royal
Page Number: 156
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

Esther Character Timeline in Go Tell It on the Mountain

The timeline below shows where the character Esther appears in Go Tell It on the Mountain. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 2: The Prayers of the Saints: Florence’s Prayer
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...the letter is true, he is “no better than a murderer.” Gabriel sent the girl, Esther, away, Florence told Frank, and she died after giving birth. (full context)
Part 2: The Prayers of the Saints: Gabriel’s Prayer
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...thinks of his sons. Roy had cursed him when he called him a bastard, and Esther, the mother of Gabriel’s first son, Royal, had cursed him as well. This curse had... (full context)
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Gabriel begins to think again of Esther. She is forever “associated in his mind with flame” and “the eternal fires of Hell.”... (full context)
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Esther came to church that night, but she was late. She sat near the back with... (full context)
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...visit relatives for a few days, and when he returned to lock up their house, Esther was waiting on the front porch. She had been drinking whiskey, and Gabriel was “excited”... (full context)
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“Girl,” Gabriel said finding Esther drinking in the kitchen, “don’t you believe in God? God don’t lie—and He says, plain... (full context)
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“Yes, you know,” Gabriel said as he approached Esther, “why I’m all the time worrying about you—why I’m all the time miserable when I... (full context)
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Gabriel’s affair with Esther lasted a mere nine days, and he isn’t sure exactly when Royal was conceived during... (full context)
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“Gabriel,” Esther said one day at work. “I going to have a baby.” Gabriel was shocked. Esther... (full context)
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Esther told Gabriel that Deborah would never “make him happy,” and “she ain’t never going to... (full context)
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“I can’t marry you,” Gabriel told Esther, “you know that. Now, what you want me to do?” Esther did know that Gabriel... (full context)
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...night, Gabriel took the money Deborah had been saving since they were married. He sent Esther to Chicago and took a preaching assignment in another state for three months. When he... (full context)
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When Gabriel returned that winter, “Esther came home too,” in a wooden box with “her living son.” Esther’s parents took to... (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 name?” Gabriel pretended not to know, but... (full context)
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...Gabriel admitted it, and Deborah finally told him she knew all about his affair with Esther and Royal’s birth. (full context)
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...forgive me,” Gabriel told Deborah. “But I didn’t want no harlot’s son.” Deborah was quiet. “Esther weren’t no harlot,” she said. Deborah told Gabriel that she would have “raised [Royal] like... (full context)