Go Tell It on the Mountain

by

James Baldwin

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Florence Character Analysis

Gabriel’s sister, Rachel’s daughter, and Frank’s wife. Florence grows up resenting her brother and all men because her mother gives Gabriel preferential treatment. Rachel gives Gabriel better food and better clothes, and he even gets to go to school. Rachel assumes that Florence will grow up to be a housewife, which means she doesn’t need an education, but Florence rejects this sexist, limiting plan for her life. She wants to move North where there is more opportunity, find a better job, and maybe go to school. Florence eventually moves North, where she marries Frank, a man who “drinks too much” and “sings the blues,” and she never finds happiness. She rejects her brother’s religion and struggles with this decision, and she is plagued by internalized racism. She refers to her husband as a “common [n_____]” and bleaches her dark skin. Despite this, Florence is active in Uplift meetings and advocates for the betterment of African Americans. She listens to “prominent Negros” speak, and she encourages Frank to do the same. Their marriage, however, doesn’t last, and Frank leaves her after ten years of marriage. Florence lives the rest of her life alone and bitter, and by the time she finds her way to John’s Harlem church on the night of his fourteenth birthday, she is already dying. Florence fears what will come of her soul when she dies, and she comes to church to get her spiritual “house in order.” Florence also goes to church to confront Gabriel and finally hold him accountable for his sins and poor treatment of every single person in his life. Florence has been holding a letter from Gabriel’s first wife, Deborah, for over thirty years, and she believes it to be an “instrument” for Gabriel’s “destruction.” Florence finally confronts Gabriel and condemns him as a sinner, reaching some level of closure before leaving him for the last time.

Florence Quotes in Go Tell It on the Mountain

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

She had always seemed to Florence the oldest woman in the world, for she often spoke of Florence and Gabriel as the children of her old age, and she had been born, innumerable years ago, during slavery, on a plantation in another state. On this plantation she had grown up as one of the field workers, for she was very tall and strong; and by and by she had married and raised children, all of whom had been taken from her, one by sickness and two by auction; and one, whom she had not been allowed to call her own, had been raised in the master’s house.

Related Characters: Gabriel, Florence, Rachel
Page Number: 74-75
Explanation and Analysis:

Gabriel was the apple of his mother’s eye. […] With the birth of Gabriel, which occurred when [Florence] was five, her future was swallowed up. There was only one future in that house, and it was Gabriel’s—to which, since Gabriel was a manchild, all else must be sacrificed. Her mother did not, indeed, think of it as sacrifice, but as logic: Florence was a girl, and would by and by be married, and have children of her own, and all the duties of a woman; and this being so, her life in the cabin was the best possible preparation for her future life. But Gabriel was a man; he would go out one day into the world to do a man’s work, and he needed, therefore, meat, when there was any in the house, and clothes, whenever clothes could be bought, and the strong indulgence of his womenfolk, so that he would know how to be with women when he had a wife.

Related Characters: Gabriel, Florence, Rachel
Page Number: 78
Explanation and Analysis:

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:
Get the entire Go Tell It on the Mountain LitChart as a printable PDF.
Go Tell It on the Mountain PDF

Florence Character Timeline in Go Tell It on the Mountain

The timeline below shows where the character Florence 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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...“shame and anger” at 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... (full context)
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...house. “Roy got stabbed with a knife,” she yells and runs into the house. Aunt Florence is there too, and she meets John at the door. “This bad brother of yours... (full context)
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...to know just how come you let this boy go out and get half killed.” Florence steps in suddenly. “Oh, no, you ain’t,” she says sternly. No one let Roy do... (full context)
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“You got an awful lot to say,” Gabriel says to Florence. “It’s just the mercy of God that this boy didn’t lose his eye. Look here,”... (full context)
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...his own mother, Rachel. “God rest her soul,” he says, “she’d have found a way.” Florence laughs. “She didn’t find no way to stop you,” she says. Elizabeth turns to her... (full context)
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As Gabriel winds up to strike Roy again, Florence approaches and stops his arm midair. “Yes, Lord,” she says to him, “you was born... (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 as if... (full context)
Part 2: The Prayers of the Saints: Florence’s Prayer
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Sitting in the church, Florence begins to sing the only religious song she knows, one she can remember her mother,... (full context)
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Florence continues to sing and thinks about Rachel. Florence’s entire life, “sixty groaning years,” has led... (full context)
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Florence believes that crying and throwing one’s self on the alter is “indecent” behavior and is... (full context)
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Florence can still hear Rachel praying late at night in their cabin in the South. “We... (full context)
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...gone,” she said, relieved. Rachel had been born during slavery, and she always referred to Florence and Gabriel “as the children of her old age.” She had given birth to four... (full context)
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It had become Florence’s “deep ambition” to walk out of the cabin the same way Rachel had walked off... (full context)
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Gabriel “was a manchild” and therefore more important than Florence. Rachel thought of this as “logic,” since Gabriel would grow up to be a man... (full context)
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Florence had become good friends with Deborah after Deborah’s “accident,” and together they “hated all men.”... (full context)
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Florence can still remember when Gabriel was baptized. He had “not wished to be baptized,” and... (full context)
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When Florence was twenty-six in 1900, she decided to go North. “Ma,” Florence said. “I’m going. I’m... (full context)
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Gabriel begged Florence to stay. Rachel “needs a woman” to care for her, he said. “Girl, ain’t you... (full context)
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...Mother Washington and her granddaughter, Ella Mae, have just arrived, and Mother Washington is behind Florence, “helping her to pray.” Florence is completely still and silent, and John thinks she is... (full context)
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Florence’s late husband, Frank, “drank too much” and “sang the blues.” Once he grew a “tiny... (full context)
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Frank had left Florence after ten years of marriage, over twenty years ago now. Back then, he was rarely... (full context)
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It had been Florence’s “great mistake” to love Frank “so bitterly.” She believes that “all women” have been “cursed... (full context)
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Frank had never been able to buy Florence a house, or anything else for that matter. It wasn’t that Frank “could not make... (full context)
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Florence’s harsh words had trailed into the next room where Frank’s friends sat. “And what you... (full context)
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While Frank and Florence frequently fought, she often felt his “love” and “tenderness” was “real.” He would often come... (full context)
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For ten years Frank and Florence fought, and now she wonders if she had “been wrong to fight so hard.” Florence... (full context)
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...bastard living right there in the same town what he’s scared to call his own,” Florence told Frank. Frank was immediately confused. Gabriel is supposed to be a preacher. “Being a... (full context)
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...all your time and my money on all them old skin whiteners,” he said to Florence. “You as black now as you was the day you was born.” Florence said he... (full context)
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Holding the letter now, Florence considers it “an instrument” to “complete [Gabriel’s] destruction.” Florence grows angry, filling with “terror and... (full context)
Part 2: The Prayers of the Saints: Gabriel’s Prayer
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As Florence weeps, Gabriel “talks to the Lord.” Listening to Florence, he doesn’t hear his sister but... (full context)
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...meals and washing his clothes. He “never intended to marry her.” To Gabriel, Deborah was Florence’s “older” friend and Rachel’s “faithful visitor.” She was “severe” and “sexless,” and placed “on earth... (full context)
Part 2: The Prayers of the Saints: Elizabeth’s Prayer
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Elizabeth first met Gabriel through Florence when John was only six months old. Elizabeth and John were living alone in a... (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 woman. “He likes you,”... (full context)
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Florence told Elizabeth that Gabriel was “some kind of preacher,” but when they were younger, he... (full context)
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Suddenly, Elizabeth broke down and cried. “You see this wedding ring?” she asked Florence. “Well, I bought this ring myself. [John] ain’t got no daddy.” Florence immediately comforted her.... (full context)
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Elizabeth met Gabriel a few weeks later. She again took John to Florence’s house, and on the way into her building, John began to wriggle and dance to... (full context)
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Florence, Gabriel, and Elizabeth sat and visited, while John fell asleep to the sound of the... (full context)
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Florence “did not approve” of Elizabeth’s relationship with Gabriel, and she was vocal of this from... (full context)
Part 3: The Threshing-Floor
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...mouth,” Gabriel says. “I want to see you live it. It’s more than a notion.” Florence approaches John as well. “You fight the good fight,” she says, “you hear? Don’t you... (full context)
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Florence walks ahead with Gabriel. “You always been saying,” she says to her brother, “how the... (full context)
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“Yes,” Florence says to Gabriel, “we’s all going to be together there. [Rachel], and you, and me,... (full context)
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“Looks like,” Florence says to Gabriel, “you think the Lord’s a man like you; you think you can... (full context)
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“I got a son,” Gabriel says, “and the Lord’s going to raise him up.” Florence laughs. “That son,” she says, “that Roy. You going to weep for many a eternity... (full context)
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“What you think,” Gabriel asks Florence, “you going to be able to do to me.” She tells him that she will... (full context)
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“Deborah was cut down,” Florence says to Gabriel, “but she left word. She weren’t no enemy of nobody—and she didn’t... (full context)