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Go Tell It on the Mountain’ by James Baldwin Review Essay

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Updated: Sep 28th, 2021

Introduction

Go Tell It on the Mountain is the novel written by James Baldwin describing the fourteenth birthday of a young boy named John Grimes in 1935. The novel is written steeped with text from the King James Bible because it is told from the perspective of African-Americans who are steeped in biblical thoughts. As a result, the book’s three chapters are actually like the “Prayers of the Saints” told from different perspectives. It is told from Florence’s perspective, John’s Father’s perspective, and finally his mother’s perspective. The prayers are done as if they are being said in a Christian revival meeting an event that was and still is popular among country people.

Florence’s life story

Florence bleaches her skin for two reasons. First, she is trying ever so hard to escape her being an African-American and the stigma that goes with it. Related to this she bleaching is a submission to the fact that she feels inferior to White people because of the color of her skin. In other words, as a result of her life’s experiences, she is bleaching her skin because she despises being Black and would rather be a white person.

Florence’s life story is told in the second ‘chapter’ of the book. She was born to a free slave. Because he knew no other trade his entire life, chose to continue being a servant of white people in the Southern United States. In other words, he continued being a slave, with a slave mentality with the exception that he now received wages for his work. This subservience would later help shape Florence’s inferiority complex concerning white people. To make matters worse, her mother showed an obvious bias for her younger brother Gabriel. For example, when they were young, their mother doggedly insisted that Gabriel go to school while not allowing Florence the same opportunity. Their mother even insisted that Florence wait on her brother like a servant. Not only does she feel inferior outside the home because of her skin color she also felt disenfranchised at home because of her mother’s preference.

In response to the way life was treating her, Florence developed a deep desire to escape her life as an African-American and as an unloved daughter. Her drive to escape was so pressing that eventually, she bought a train ticket to New York. The trip to New York is both a literal and figurative escape because she fled the South where African-Americans were heavily discriminated against seeking New York which in those days was more cosmopolitan and less discriminating against her kind. It was a literal escape because when she left her mother was on her deathbed as if a sort of revenge for her mother’s lack of love for her, Florence abandoned her at a time when the mother needed her the most.

Instead of liberation and security, she only found more bondage in New York, Although New Yorkers did not look down on her as much she still found life in New York Hard mainly because of her husband Frank. Frank was a lout, a drinker who was irresponsible and squandered their money. Florence was powerless to restrain his hedonistic behavior. Often he would go on long binges with alcohol, abandoning her, only to return when he was broken. When he returned he would be penitent and pliable but this would only be a façade and he would morph back into his old self when he had her support again.

Eventually, Frank left her to live with another woman. Florence no longer cared about Frank. She was so uncaring that she did not even care to know that Frank was dead, a soldier in the American Expeditionary Force, slain in action in France. She only learned of his fate years later from his live-in partner.

In the current setting of the Book, Florence believes that she is dying. She contrasts her wanton fate with that of her brother with bitter jealousy. When they were young, Gabriel was doted upon by their mother and to a lesser extent by Florence at their mother’s insistence. Great efforts were taken to send him to school while Florence did not. He was a drunkard and a wayward child in his youth, the disparity between their mother’s affections between the two and the apparent lack of reason behind this was one of the reasons why she was so bitter with her mother. Yet later in life, specifically ‘today’ in the story their roles are reversed. She is the wretched one, ill and dying with little to hope for in life. He on the other hand is now a respected minister. She is entering ‘his’ church, worse she feels he knows she is not entering the church out of a serious desire to be religious. Instead, she is going there because she is in dire need. Even nearing death she still wants to harm her brother.

End of life

Despite her prayers, this is her standing in life. Dying, she is still bitter over the fact that she was born Black and was raised in the South. Still anguished by the fact that their mother loved Gabriel more than her she remains angry and vengeful. But at its core, her rancor has to do with the fact that she was a Black woman born in a time and place where African-Americans were still seen as a slave race.

References

Baldwin, James. Go tell it on the Mountain. Web.

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IvyPanda. "Go Tell It on the Mountain' by James Baldwin Review." September 28, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/go-tell-it-on-the-mountain-by-james-baldwin-review/.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Go Tell It on the Mountain' by James Baldwin Review." September 28, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/go-tell-it-on-the-mountain-by-james-baldwin-review/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Go Tell It on the Mountain' by James Baldwin Review'. 28 September.

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