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For centuries now, men and women have struggled over their sexuality. It has been noted throughout time that several well known and highly regarded historical figures have been free with their sexuality on both sides of the spectrum. Basically, homosexual tendencies have been accepted as a normal part of life in that it has never been regarded as wrong. Only now in our new environment as Americans does the idea of homosexuality bring uncomfort and distaste to people. In fact, American has almost pushed the homosexual populous underground where they now reside as somewhat of a subculture. Americans have put a huge strain on the gay community by persecuting them and demanding that their way of life is wrong. This phenomenon is particularly prevalent in the middle class American society; at least it was a lot more in the past. The novel Giovanni’s Room, written by James Baldwin, depicts a young man caught in the troublesome situation of being a gay American in the middle twentieth century. The character, David, accepts his homosexuality as a boy, but soon learns that his sexual behavior is highly frowned upon by most Americans. With this understanding of homosexual resentment in America, David sets off for Paris in search of an escape from the turmoil’s that lay at home. David cannot and does not accept his homosexuality because of the ingrained middle class American attitude towards homosexuals.
David’s father, although not resentful of gay people, wants David to become a man. A man in the classic sense of a man, and certainly not a homosexual man:
‘And listen,’ said my father suddenly, from the middle of the staircase, in a voice which frightened me, ‘all I want for David is that he grows up to be a man. And when I say man, Ellen, I don’t mean a Sunday school teacher.’
David’s father was not suggesting that David was not a man, but our society has set forth preconceived notions about what it means to be a man. When David heard this from his father, he felt as though by being gay, he was somehow disappointing his father. This idea certainly scared David into thinking that his homosexual feelings were bad. Later in Paris, David was able to escape the direct tension that he felt, but his worries still lingered and he fought to become the person that he thought he should be:
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David’s suffering continues to grow as he accepts a gay position in Paris, yet has the nagging feeling of guilt brought on by American ignorance. David finds a gay lover named Giovanni who becomes somewhat of a safe haven for David. The only reason that his relation with Giovanni seems safe is because no one knows about it. David finds pleasure and satisfaction in being with Giovanni and for a brief time, his American heritage drifts away along with his fears and concerns. Soon enough though, David becomes nervous to the fact that his fiancée is coming back from Spain, and that his little sherade would soon have to end: Hella was on her way back from Spain and my father had agreed to send me money, which I was not going to use to help Giovanni, who had done so much to help me. I was going to use it to escape his room. No matter how hard David tried to be himself, he always had his father and girlfriend to remind him what he was expected to be as an American man; this being a father and a husband. These people in his life never forced him to change, it was just always expected that he was straight.
David’s only salvation from his gay fears is the fact that he is still engaged to Hella. In fact, he glories at the idea that he can once again resume his presumed lifestyle when Hella writes him a letter telling him she is coming back. This news elated him and he felt American again; I folded the letter, which I now realized I had been awaiting for many days and nights and the waiter came and asked me what I wanted to drink. I had meant to order an aperitif but now, in some grotesque spirit of celebration, ordered a Scotch and soda. And over this drink, which had never seemed more American than it did at that moment, I stared at absurd Paris, which was as cluttered now, under scalding sun, as the landscape of my heart. David is associating being straight, with being American. It becomes obvious how much David wants to stay straight. He fears his homosexuality and he fears what it might mean back in America. It seems as though Baldwin is saying that unlike the rest of the world, or at least Paris, America is an unaccepting place for gay people. David never finds pain in his actions when he thinks of Paris, but as soon as he associates his homosexuality with America, he starts to worry about the retribution that might occur. Hella provides an outlet for David. She is his only link into his “American” lifestyle. When he is with Hella he feels American and straight: I was terribly glad to see her. It really seemed, with Hella in the circle of my arms, that my arms were home and I was welcoming her back there. David so much wants to be straight. He yearns to love Hella, and he wishes that their relationship could be true. But David is only fueling the inevitable fire that burns within him, a fire that could not burn in America.
David can never fully accept his homosexual feelings because of the middle class American ignorance. Eventually, David not only looses Giovanni, but Hella finally finds him out. David ends up hurting several people during the novel. He is never true to his lovers and certainly not to himself. America, it seems, had a much stronger grasp on David than he cared to acknowledge. In conclusion, David was pushed away from his home in America because of the ignorance towards homosexuals.