Go Tell It on the Mountain

by

James Baldwin

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Gabriel Character Analysis

The antagonist in Go Tell It on the Mountain and John’s stepfather. Gabriel is born to Rachel, a former slave, in the American South during the Reconstruction Era. Gabriel grows up under the indignity and violence of Jim Crow, and he deeply resents white people. He is a preacher, and thus the personification of Christianity in the book. In his youth, Gabriel drank and frequented whorehouses, but he was finally brought to his knees one morning after leaving “a harlot” and is saved by the grace of God. He soon marries Deborah, a local woman who bears the “disgrace” of a rape. Despite her “history,” Deborah is the holiest woman in town, which helps Gabriel “to stand,” or remain holy, so he decides to marry her. He believes marrying Deborah will “raise her up” and “release her from” the “dishonor” of her rape. Gabriel’s rationale for marrying Deborah reveals his own misogyny as well as society’s, and he further disrespects Deborah when he cheats on her with Esther, a woman he considers “a harlot.” Esther ends up pregnant and dies after giving birth to a son named Royal. Gabriel rejects both Esther and her child, claiming she is whore who will drag him into sin. Of course, Baldwin implies that it is Gabriel who is the sinner, and his despicable behavior continues with Elizabeth and John. Gabriel marries Elizabeth to, in a way, “release” her from the “dishonor” of giving birth to John out of wedlock, and while Gabriel promises to love them, he barely tries. He continually holds them both responsible for the circumstances of John’s birth, and while Gabriel mistreats all his children, he is especially cruel to John. He beats his sons and slaps Elizabeth while she is pregnant, and despite being a preacher and allegedly saved by God, Gabriel is little more than a miserable sinner. It is through Gabriel that Baldwin argues that one can be both religious and sinful, and that religion, while often a source of comfort for people, can also be a source of oppression and pain.

Gabriel Quotes in Go Tell It on the Mountain

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

His father said that all white people were wicked, and that God was going to bring them low. He said that white people were never to be trusted, and that they told nothing but lies, and that not one of them had ever loved a [n_____]. He, John, was a [n_____], and he would find out, as soon as he got a little older, how evil white people could be. John had read about the things white people did to colored people; how, in the South, where his parents came from, white people cheated them of their wages, and burned them, and shot them—and did worse things, said his father, which the tongue could not endure to utter. He had read about colored men being burned in the electric chair for things they had not done; how in riots they were beaten with clubs; how they were tortured in prisons; how they were the last to be hired and the first to be fired.

Related Characters: John, Gabriel
Page Number: 34-35
Explanation and Analysis:
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:
Part 2: The Prayers of the Saints: Gabriel’s Prayer Quotes

For he desired in his soul, with fear and trembling, all the glories that his mother prayed he should find. Yes, he wanted power—he wanted to know himself to be the Lord’s anointed, His well-beloved, and worthy, nearly, of that snow-white dove which had been sent down from Heaven to testify that Jesus was the Son of God. He wanted to be master, to speak with that authority which could only come from God.

Related Characters: Gabriel, Rachel
Page Number: 104
Explanation and Analysis:

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:

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:
Part 3: The Threshing-Floor Quotes

Then the ironic voice, terrified, it seemed, of no depth, no darkness, demanded of John, scornfully, if he believed that he was cursed. All [n_____s] had been cursed, the ironic voice reminded him, all [n_____s] had come from this most undutiful of Noah’s sons. How could John be cursed for having seen in a bathtub what another man—if that other man had ever lived—had seen ten thousand years ago, lying in an open tent? Could a curse come down so many ages? Did it live in time, or in the moment? But John found no answer for this voice, for he was in the moment, and out of time. […] Then his father stood just above him, looking down. Then John knew that a curse was renewed from moment to moment, from father to son. Time was indifferent, like snow and ice; but the heart, crazed wanderer in the driving waste, carried the curse forever.

Related Characters: John, Gabriel
Related Symbols: The Threshing-Floor
Page Number: 232-233
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Go Tell It on the Mountain LitChart as a printable PDF.
Go Tell It on the Mountain PDF

Gabriel Character Timeline in Go Tell It on the Mountain

The timeline below shows where the character Gabriel 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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...remember, it has always been assumed that he will become a preacher like his father, Gabriel. John himself accepts this as a given and has never thought much about it—until the... (full context)
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...“only memories,” are of going to church on Sunday mornings with his family. His father, Gabriel, would lead them in prayer, and his mother, Elizabeth, “looked almost young” in her best... (full context)
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...“he had 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,... (full context)
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...Baptized is “not the biggest church in Harlem,” but it is “the holiest and best.” Gabriel is “head deacon,” but the pastor, Father James, preaches on Sundays and leads revivals. John’s... (full context)
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...been warned against this sin, but he has “made his decision.” He won’t “be like [Gabriel].” He will “have another life.” Besides, John is smart and does well in school, and... (full context)
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...death or alteration” or “destruction.” But it is also part of the “wickedness for which [Gabriel] beats him” and what John clings to “in order to withstand his father.” Despite Gabriel’s... (full context)
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Elizabeth and Roy continue their argument, which is about Gabriel. “One thing you can’t say,” Elizabeth says to Roy, “you can’t say he ain’t always... (full context)
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...are simply too young to appreciate how “lucky” they are to have a father like Gabriel. Roy laughs. They aren’t allowed to go to the theater or play with friends in... (full context)
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...face. He looks the same as always. The “hand of Satan” is not “yet visible.” Gabriel always tells John he is “ugly” and that he has “the face of Satan,” but... (full context)
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...picture, but John feels “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.... (full context)
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...love for him.” The people there don’t “see him,” and if they do, they “smirk.” Gabriel claims that John’s soul will “find perdition” in the city. (full context)
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...way, the way of the cross,” leads to “humiliation forever” and life and job like Gabriel’s. Looking to the bottom of the mountain, John begins to run. “If it’s wrong, I... (full context)
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...to him, and it is “hard to think of them burning in Hell forever.” But Gabriel says that “all white people are wicked,” and that they are not “to be trusted.”... (full context)
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...sure going to 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... (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... (full context)
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Elizabeth reminds Gabriel that Roy had tried to cut the white boys too and wasn’t exactly innocent. “I... (full context)
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Gabriel looks at Elizabeth and, “with all his might,” reaches out and “slaps her across the... (full context)
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As Gabriel winds up to strike Roy again, Florence approaches and stops his arm midair. “Yes, Lord,”... (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,... (full context)
Part 2: The Prayers of the Saints: Florence’s Prayer
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...it’s me, it’s me, oh, Lord, / Standing in the need of prayer,” Florence sings. Gabriel looks to his sister and “rejoices” that she has finally come to the Lord. He... (full context)
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“I ain’t afraid,” a young Gabriel proudly asserted. “You hush, now!” Rachel yelled, listening to the fading horse hoofs outside. “They’s... (full context)
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...Rachel had walked off the plantation. Florence’s own father had left too, not long after Gabriel was born, and for as long as she can remember, Florence had always wanted to... (full context)
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Gabriel “was a manchild” and therefore more important than Florence. Rachel thought of this as “logic,”... (full context)
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Gabriel was an awful child who often got into “mischief.” Rachel would beat him with a... (full context)
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Florence can still remember when Gabriel was baptized. He had “not wished to be baptized,” and as he was, he began... (full context)
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...to go North. “Ma,” Florence said. “I’m going. I’m a-going this morning.” Both Rachel and Gabriel were shocked. Rachel’s health had been failing for some time, and she wasn’t expected to... (full context)
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Gabriel begged Florence to stay. Rachel “needs a woman” to care for her, he said. “Girl,... (full context)
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...“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 in her purse... (full context)
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...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 preacher ain’t never stopped a [n_____] from... (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 rage.” Why had God “preferred [Rachel] 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 “the cry... (full context)
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The “silence” takes Gabriel back to before his “birth in Christ,” before he was saved. Everything before that point... (full context)
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Rachel had once been “impatient” and “violent” waiting for Gabriel to come to the Lord. She had “shouted and contended like a man” but then... (full context)
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Gabriel wanted the “power” known only to “God’s anointed,” but he took his time coming to... (full context)
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One morning on his way home, Gabriel passed the tree that marked the small mountain beyond which was Rachel’s cabin. He thought... (full context)
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Thus, began Gabriel’s life “as a man.” At only twenty-one, he began preaching. He moved to a room... (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.” Combined, these put her beyond “any honorable man’s desire.”... (full context)
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Before Gabriel had married Deborah, he was asked to preach at the Twenty-Four Elders Revival Meeting, a... (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... (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 men continued... (full context)
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Later that night, Gabriel had a dream about the “demons” who haunted his previous life. He saw friends he... (full context)
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...Elisha cries out and falls backward onto the threshing-floor, “under the power of the Lord.” Gabriel opens his eyes, afraid that the sound is coming from John. Gabriel has two sons... (full context)
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As Elisha cries out, Gabriel thinks of his sons. Roy had cursed him when he called him a bastard, and... (full context)
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Gabriel once asked Elizabeth if she had “truly repented.” She said she had, but Gabriel isn’t... (full context)
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Gabriel begins to think again of Esther. She is forever “associated in his mind with flame”... (full context)
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...back with her mother and wore a big blue hat and dark red dress. As Gabriel preached, he watched both Esther and Deborah, and he realized how “black,” “bony,” and “wholly... (full context)
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Soon after, Gabriel dropped the white people he worked for off to visit relatives for a few days,... (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... (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... (full context)
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Gabriel’s affair with Esther lasted a mere nine days, and he isn’t sure exactly when Royal... (full context)
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Gabriel,” Esther said one day at work. “I going to have a baby.” Gabriel was shocked.... (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... (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... (full context)
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That night, Gabriel took the money Deborah had been saving since they were married. He sent Esther to... (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... (full context)
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When Gabriel returned that winter, “Esther came home too,” in a wooden box with “her living son.”... (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... (full context)
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...or late, why do you hesitate?” John knows that if he prays and is saved, Gabriel will “no longer be is father,” and John will instead be “the son of his... (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... (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... (full context)
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Inside the Temple of the Fire Baptized, Gabriel rises with the rest of the congregation and stands over Elisha on the threshing-floor. John,... (full context)
Part 2: The Prayers of the Saints: Elizabeth’s Prayer
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...and Elizabeth had not told her of John until long after she had already married Gabriel. Her aunt had been “second in a series of disasters that had ended Elizabeth’s childhood.”... (full context)
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...so that he would have had a better chance at a father who loved him. Gabriel had promised to “love her nameless son as though he were his own flesh,” but... (full context)
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Elizabeth first met Gabriel through Florence when John was only six months old. Elizabeth and John were living alone... (full context)
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...wonderful child.” Florence told Elizabeth that she had just received a letter from her bother, Gabriel. His wife had recently died, and he planned to move North. Florence hadn’t seen in... (full context)
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Florence told Elizabeth that Gabriel was “some kind of preacher,” but when they were younger, he did nothing but “chase... (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... (full context)
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Florence, Gabriel, and Elizabeth sat and visited, while John fell asleep to the sound of the blues.... (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 said more than... (full context)
Part 3: The Threshing-Floor
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“Set thin house in order,” John hears Gabriel say, “for thou shalt die and not live.” John again hears the mysterious voice. “Get... (full context)
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...thinks perhaps it is “the fires of Hell” he is hearing, and then he hears Gabriel’s voice. “I’m going to beat sin out of him. I’m going to beat it out.”... (full context)
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...many ages.” Does a curse “live in time,” he questions, “or in the moment?” With Gabriel standing over him on the threshing-floor, John knows that a curse is “renewed from moment... (full context)
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“John,” says Gabriel, “come with me.” He leads John down a “narrow, narrow” street. The street is abandoned,... (full context)
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“I seen it. I seen it,” John says as he runs from Gabriel. “And I heard you—all the nighttime long. I know what you do in the dark,... (full context)
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John approaches Gabriel. “I’m saved,” John says to his father. “It come from your mouth,” Gabriel says. “I... (full context)
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Florence walks ahead with Gabriel. “You always been saying,” she says to her brother, “how the Lord would answer prayer.”... (full context)
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“Yes,” Florence says to Gabriel, “we’s all going to be together there. [Rachel], and you, and me, and Deborah—and what... (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 fool Him like... (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,... (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... (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 see nothing but... (full context)
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...walks away toward his uncle’s 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... (full context)