At the end of Baldwin's 1952 novel Go Tell It on the Mountain, John Grimes, the young protagonist, has an epiphany or what is more commonly referred to as a visionary conversion experience, a staple of American religious life. He embraces Jesus and endures a state of ecstatic mysticism in which he experiences "his drifting soul ... anchored in the love of God" (204). John's rebirth in Christ, his being "saved," is an affirmation of one of the strongest bulwarks in the African American community during slavery, and especially since its abolition: the black church. (2) Baldwin has said that "everything in Black history comes out of the church." It is "not a redemptive force but a `bridge across troubled water,'" Kalamu ya Salaam interviewing Baldwin responded. "It is how we forged our identity" (Pratt and Stanley 182). The church is the African American's inheritance. Black writers and the characters they create are not so easily divested of it, nor should they be. Though John Grimes's commitment to Christ is representative of black assimilation into American (white) culture, this adoption of Christian beliefs not only helped the community forge a stronger connection to their country and society, but it also enabled slaves and then emancipated Africans to shore up their sense of self-worth and value. African American literature, according to Abena P. A. Busia, "has therefore become a drive for self-definition and redefinition, and any discussion of this drive must recognize this, its proper context: We are speaking from a state of siege" (2). John Grimes's journey over the course of Go Tell It on the Mountain mirrors this movement from imprisonment to freedom, from a vague sense of self to a greater consciousn...
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... dilemma of his protagonist, but also exposing the moral foundations of the institutional pillars in the black community" (Bell 224). While criticism of the church's role in supporting subtle racism is justified, it is also true that John cleverly utilizes the rich resources of the church that were available to him. Would he be better off following Roy into the streets? Or Royal, Gabriel's first son, who also found his way into the streets and the reendured a violent death? John "wanted to be with these boys in the street, heedless and thoughtless, wearing out his treacherous and bewildering body" (30). He recognizes, however, even in the semi-transparent consciousness of a man-child, that he is being forced to make "so cruel a choice" (40) between the ways of the world, which in his community can too often lead to violence and self-destruction, and the ways of God.
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