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Giovanni's Room

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Jay Meeks

on 6 February 2013

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Transcript of Giovanni's Room

Agenda 4: 10p - 4: 20p Updates 4: 20p - 5 : 30p Book Discussion 6:oop Guest Speaker What is intersectionalityand why is it important to our work? Shields (2008) writes: "Intersectionality varies by research context, but a consistent thread across definitions is that social identities which serve as organizing features of social relations, mutually constitute, reinforce, and naturalize one another" (p. 302) Bodies In Action: Intersections in Giovanni's Room and Intersections with James Baldwin Jimmy Baldwin: A Man with Many Commitments "What defense was there for James Baldwin;this man who stood at the threshold of the intersection of what it meant to be Black and Gay in America? The complexity for Baldwin; this intersectionality of identity – being both Black in a racial America and Gay in an already marginalized Black community – exposed a critical need for Baldwin’s discovery of racial and sexual identity through his engagement with and later dissolution from the Black community and Church and his struggle to exist as a Black Gay man within and on the outside of the whiteness of Gay culture. Small Group Discussion Questions Gay, Black writers in early and mid-twentieth century America faced challenge as they struggled to forge a presence in the literary community while managing two conflicting elements of their identity;their blackness and their homosexuality. (Part I, Harris) Questions we hope to answer in our discussion: 1. Based on what Harris has written, why do you think James Baldwin chose to make his central character a white male, and furthermore to have that character narrate his novel?

2. Sexual orientation and gender are centralized subjects in Baldwin's text, is race on the margins? If so, how?

3. What are the parallels between race and homosexuality that Baldwin attempts to make with the character David? (Hint: How is Giovanni described?)

4. What are the parallels between African-Americans (Giovanni) and Whites that Baldwin attempts to make with the character David?

5. Can we read Giovanni's room as a critique of whiteness?

6. What is the significance of the title Giovanni's Room?
Sexuality "By mutually constitute I mean that one category of identity, such as gender, takes its meaning as a category in relation to another category. By reinforce I mean that the formation and maintenance of identity categories is a dynamic process in which the individual herself or himself is actively engaged" (p. 302). On the margin--so to speak-- we are looking at Baldwin through his characters: How does David's relationship with father shape his ideas about masculinity? Is the influence of his father for good or for ill?

What role does sexual desire play in notions of masculinity? If David admitted that he was gay, what would that mean for his understanding of his own masculinity?

Why does David seem to fear and be opposed to male candor? How does male candor differ from male love?

When does David seem at peace with his sexuality? When does he seem ashamed of it? When he is ashamed, why is he ashamed and how does this shame express itself?

How does David's father express his sexuality? What effects might this have on David's way of thinking about his own sexuality?

Consider the communities that David is a part of in Paris. How are these communities shaped by certain ideas about sexuality and sexual desire?

How are Hella's ideas about femininity shaped by David's own confused sexual identity? Giovanni's Room and Race Magdalena Zaborowska http://www.lsa.umich.edu/ac/people/americanculturefaculty/ci.zaborowskamagdalena_ci.detail Critics Marlon B. Ross may lead one further to the conclusion that Baldwin’s characters have no true identity or even substance for that matter. He says, “lovers, Giovanni and David are “specific instance of individuals with representativee (white?) problems that need human (white?) solutions.
Their race signifies nothing beyond itself.”
In doing this, Baldwin divorced himself from both his identity and reality. Scholars like Ross ponder how it was possible that, “Baldwin could succeed with such a novel that necessarily provokes a crisis of identity and authority for the author and for his readers in a race-coded

Robert Bone( 1965) wrote: "Giovanni's Room by far is the weakest of Baldwin's Novels...The characters are vague and disembodied, the themes half-digested, the colors bleached rather than vivified."

Mae G. Henderson(2007) states the characters are masquerading in racial drag.
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