Post-WWII America known for conformity and normality was not a kind time to homosexual men. These men were deemed unacceptable in a society that did not accept them and many felt forced to keep their feelings internal. This in turn led to struggle and conflict, as David, the main character in the novel Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin, discovers. David, a motherless, homosexual American living in France, discovers he is gay as a teen.
His teenage struggle ultimately culminates in a car crash, arguably a suicide attempt. James Baldwin uses the events of a car crash that David experiences as a teenager to illustrate David’s internal fight and well has foreshadow the future events in the novel, including David’s lover, Giovanni’s demise. In novels such as On the Road by Jack Kerouac and Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor, a car is used as a symbol to represent a journey and hopefully a destination. For the main characters of these two novels, it can be argued that they reach their respective destinations. David’s car crash however signals the opposite; he does not reach his destination, nor will he reach his overall destination during the course of the novel. David’s destination can be interpreted as his desire to be straight. His desire is summed up when he states, “I wanted children…with my manhood unquestioned, watching my woman put my children to bed…I wanted a woman to be for me” (104). However, inside he knows he loves Giovanni too much and he will never be free of that love. When Giovanni is sentenced to death David states, “I must confess: I loved him. I do not think that I will ever love anyone like that again.” (112).
Just like his car, David’s also “crashes” because in the end he never is able to put aside his true feelings. David’s character and personality as portrayed by Baldwin is very self-centered and selfish. Throughout the novel he fails to recognize the feelings on of anybody but himself. The car crash brings forth this selfishness as well as foreshadows how it will affect other characters in the novel. During the crash, David completely disregards the fact that there are other people in the car and that he is putting their lives at an immense risk. His own despair seems to trump the lives of others. David’s selfishness finally culminates when he leaves Giovanni for the last time. He states, “I can have a life with her… What kind of life can two men have together, anyway?…That’s what you want… What do you think you’ve been doing to me?” (142). David, again, disregards and ultimately blames Giovanni for loving him. He is so focused on his image to be straight, that he does not care about anyone else and it kills Giovanni.
When David comes to after the car crash, his father confronts him about the crash. David has a moment where he wants to tell his father everything, but instead he thinks, “I wanted to tell him everything, but speaking was such agony” (18). David’s feelings as a teenager parallel his feelings at the end of the novel when he states, “I take the blue envelope which Jacques has sent me and tear it slowly into many pieces… watching the wind carry them away…” (167). David still refuses to accept himself for who he his. His only desire is to be straight and “normal.” Even after hurting nearly all the other characters in the novel, he still “tears” the past away, caring only for himself.
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