Go Tell It on the Mountain

by

James Baldwin

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Rachel Character Analysis

Florence and Gabriel’s mother. Rachel is born a slave on a Southern plantation and is not liberated until she is over thirty years old. Rachel’s life as a slave is full of heartache. She buries one husband and is left by another, and she has four children and loses them all. She is beaten and raped and forced to work nearly every day. After the Civil War, Rachel leaves the plantation and never looks back. She refers to Gabriel and Florence as “the children of her old age” because she had them much later than her other children. Rachel treats Gabriel better than Florence because he is a “manchild,” which reflects the sexist nature of their patriarchal society, and Florence deeply resents both her mother and her brother because of this. Gabriel, however, is a sinful child, and Rachel frequently beats him to bring him to God. Rachel dies of a vague illness after Florence moves to the North and Gabriel accepts God and is saved. Rachel manages to live long enough to see her son kneel before God, which is her final hope and prayer. Rachel serves to illustrate the cruelty of slavery, but Rachel’s character also illustrates how slavery impacts subsequent generations. The pain and fear of racism and slavery are not gone simply because slavery is abolished. This trauma lives on in ensuing generations, and Rachel’s children and grandchildren are proof of this.

Rachel Quotes in Go Tell It on the Mountain

The Go Tell It on the Mountain quotes below are all either spoken by Rachel or refer to Rachel. 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 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:
Get the entire Go Tell It on the Mountain LitChart as a printable PDF.
Go Tell It on the Mountain PDF

Rachel Character Timeline in Go Tell It on the Mountain

The timeline below shows where the character Rachel 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
Gender, the Patriarchy, and Misogyny Theme Icon
...all day” while her son goes and gets “half butchered.” Gabriel remembers his own mother, Rachel. “God rest her soul,” he says, “she’d have found a way.” Florence laughs. “She didn’t... (full context)
Part 2: The Prayers of the Saints: Florence’s Prayer
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...begins to sing the only religious song she knows, one she can remember her mother, Rachel, singing long ago. “It’s me, it’s me, it’s me, oh, Lord, / Standing in the... (full context)
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Florence continues to sing and thinks about Rachel. Florence’s entire life, “sixty groaning years,” has led her to her “mother’s starting-place, the alter... (full context)
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Florence can still hear Rachel praying late at night in their cabin in the South. “We come before You on... (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 gone,” she said, relieved. Rachel had... (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 the plantation. Florence’s own father had left too, not long after Gabriel... (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 and... (full context)
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Gabriel was an awful child who often got into “mischief.” Rachel would beat him with a “switch from a tree,” and afterward, when he was left... (full context)
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...she decided 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... (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 got no feelings... (full context)
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...“complete [Gabriel’s] destruction.” Florence grows angry, filling with “terror and rage.” Why had God “preferred [Rachel] and [Florence’s] brother, the old, black woman, and the low, black man,” while Florence is... (full context)
Part 2: The Prayers of the Saints: Gabriel’s Prayer
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...would return home “from the harlot’s house.” In the silence of those mornings, his mother, Rachel, had waited for him, not just to return home after a night out, but to... (full context)
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Rachel had once been “impatient” and “violent” waiting for Gabriel to come to the Lord. She... (full context)
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...to “God’s anointed,” but he took his time coming to God. Deborah would often visit Rachel, and she looked at Gabriel “with eyes that were no less patient and reproachful” than... (full context)
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...his way home, Gabriel passed the tree that marked the small mountain beyond which was Rachel’s cabin. He thought “of all the mornings he had mounted here and passed this tree,... (full context)
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...preaching. He moved to a room in town and married Deborah later that year. After Rachel had died, Deborah “looked after him,” cooking his meals and washing his clothes. He “never... (full context)
Part 3: The Threshing-Floor
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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 was the name of that little girl who... (full context)