Go Tell It on the Mountain


James Baldwin

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The Threshing-Floor Symbol Analysis

The Threshing-Floor Symbol Icon

The threshing-floor is the surface before the altar in John’s Harlem church, the Temple of the Fire Baptized, and it symbolizes God’s judgement in Go Tell It on the Mountain. In biblical times, harvesting wheat was a laborious process—without machinery, grain had to be separated from the chaff by hand. This typically involved a large flat surface, usually high above the fields so the wind could hit it, where the wheat could be laid out and repeatedly trampled by oxen. The Old Testament uses the image of a threshing-floor to tell stories of God’s judgement. In the Book of Hosea, for example, Hosea prophesized that God would throw the Israelites to the wind, much like chaff blowing from the threshing-floor, because they worshipped false idols, and Baldwin imbues it with similar significance.

Members of John’s church go to the threshing-floor to feel the spirit of God and to be saved and redeemed for their sins. Elisha, one of the temple’s “saints” and preachers, falls to his knees on the threshing-floor and begins “to speak in a tongue of fire, under the power of the Holy Ghost.” Elizabeth goes to the threshing-floor to confess her sins and be saved, but since she is not truly sorry for loving Richard and giving birth to his son, John, out of wedlock, she doubts her redemption. John, too, is moved to the threshing-floor under a mysterious power, and after being thrust into a “darkness” that “has no beginning, and no end,” John is lifted by God and will be rewarded with “eternal life” in Heaven. Having gone to the threshing-floor to be judged by God, John is found to be righteous.

The Threshing-Floor Quotes in Go Tell It on the Mountain

The Go Tell It on the Mountain quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Threshing-Floor. 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 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:
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Go Tell It on the Mountain PDF

The Threshing-Floor Symbol Timeline in Go Tell It on the Mountain

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Threshing-Floor 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: Gabriel’s Prayer
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...the Harlem church, the silence is broken as Elisha cries out and falls backward onto the threshing-floor , “under the power of the Lord.” Gabriel opens his eyes, afraid that the sound... (full context)
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Sex and Morality Theme Icon
...Fire Baptized, Gabriel rises with the rest of the congregation and stands over Elisha on the threshing-floor . John, too, rises and joins them. Suddenly, Elisha begins “to speak in a tongue... (full context)
Part 3: The Threshing-Floor
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Without knowing how, John finds himself on the threshing-floor . He feels “like a rock,” or like “something that has no power of itself,... (full context)
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Race and Racism Theme Icon
...“Something” is happening to John. He can’t move his arms or legs to rise from the threshing-floor , and he begins to scream. The voice again tells him to get up off... (full context)
Faith and Religion Theme Icon
Race and Racism Theme Icon
...“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 to moment, from father to... (full context)