Go Tell It on the Mountain

by

James Baldwin

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Richard Character Analysis

Elizabeth’s fiancé and John’s biological father. Richard moves to Maryland in 1919, escaping the deep-seated racial violence in the South for the promise of opportunity in the North. He works as a clerk in the store Elizabeth frequents with her aunt, and Elizabeth notices him immediately. He is described as “beautiful” and “nervous.” He is “sullen” and “barely polite” to his customers, which speaks to the level of Richard’s exhaustion. As a black man, Richard was treated as a second-class citizen in the South. He has seen violence and knows real fear, and he is tired and incredibly angry. He tries to regain some of the power white America has taken from him by honing his intellect. Through his intelligence, Richard tries to prove he is as good as everyone else, and he looks to move farther North yet in search of more opportunities to better himself. He convinces Elizabeth to move to New York with him and she agrees, and they move to Harlem and work in the same hotel. Richard and Elizabeth are happy together and plan on getting married, and while Richard doesn’t know it, she is already pregnant with his child. Richard is arrested late one night while waiting for a subway train. A group of black men runs up to him after robbing a “white man’s store,” and Richard is arrested right along with them. He tells the racists police and store owner that he was not with the offenders, but they “make no distinction” between Richard and the other black men. The police beat him and imprison him for weeks as he awaits trial, and while he is ultimately released, the damage is already done. Richard commits suicide immediately after getting out of jail, the weight of his racist society too much to bear. Through Richard, Baldwin argues the futility in trying to overcome racism in America. Richard moves across the country and learns as much as he possibly can to get the respect of white people, and he dies trying.

Richard Quotes in Go Tell It on the Mountain

The Go Tell It on the Mountain quotes below are all either spoken by Richard or refer to Richard. 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: Elizabeth’s Prayer Quotes

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

Richard Character Timeline in Go Tell It on the Mountain

The timeline below shows where the character Richard 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: Elizabeth’s Prayer
Race and Racism Theme Icon
As the church sings the nostalgic hymn, Elizabeth thinks of Richard. He had been the one to take Elizabeth to the North. He had arrived in... (full context)
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Once, Elizabeth had gone into the store without her aunt, and Richard had flirted with her. He later asked her if she still remembered that day. Of... (full context)
Sex and Morality Theme Icon
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Richard hated the South and planned on going to New York, and he wanted Elizabeth to... (full context)
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Gender, the Patriarchy, and Misogyny Theme Icon
...“spiritualist séances” each Saturday night. Elizabeth worked as a maid in the same hotel where Richard worked the elevator. They had little money, and their marriage “was planned for a future... (full context)
Faith and Religion Theme Icon
Sex and Morality Theme Icon
Gender, the Patriarchy, and Misogyny Theme Icon
...“with one hand, it “took back with the other.” But she never thought of leaving Richard. She had loved him. They had “been very happy together,” and “he had been very... (full context)
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Elizabeth and Richard often went to museums, and she had been shocked the first time he suggested it.... (full context)
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Gender, the Patriarchy, and Misogyny Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Gender, the Patriarchy, and Misogyny Theme Icon
...got past their brutal laughter.” The officers questioned her, making her feel uncomfortable. “What was [Richard] doing with you, girl, until two o’clock in the morning?” one officer asked. “Next time... (full context)
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Elizabeth was finally allowed to see Richard the next day in the jail where he was being held. He had been appointed... (full context)
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Richard was arrested along with the other three black men for robbery, and he told the... (full context)
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Gender, the Patriarchy, and Misogyny Theme Icon
...had known for some time that she was pregnant, but she didn’t want to worry Richard while he was in jail and could do nothing about it. She “hated” New York,... (full context)
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Richard was eventually released. The jury found insufficient evidence to convict him, and “the courtroom seemed... (full context)
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Gender, the Patriarchy, and Misogyny Theme Icon
...don’t get walked over by some no-count man.” It wasn’t like that, Elizabeth told her. Richard had “died.” Florence moved to comfort her again. “The menfolk, they die,” Florence said, “and... (full context)