Finding SalvationWhat is love? This question has probably been asked or thought about since the beginning of time. The definition of love cannot be defined as something concrete but something that is infinite. It is something that can evolve to everyone’s personality and something that everyone can choose to create for him or her.
The idea of love can change as the seasons change throughout the year. But for some, finding love is not an easy path and the search for love can become a faade to cover their true identity. In Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin, the main character seems to be confused about his life and more importantly about love. He not only struggles to find his sexuality but he uses the notion of love to fill the void in his life at any given time. David becomes so enveloped by his desires, wants, dreams, and idea of manhood that he cannot truly find what love means to him.As the story of David’s trek to Europe unfolds, there is an obvious sense of confusion and understanding all in one. He starts off right away talking about how he never loved Hella.
He states, “…I thought she would be fun to have fun with. That was how it began, that was all it meant to me I am not sure now, in spite of everything, that it ever really meant more than that to me (p.4)”. All throughout the novel, David is confused about Hella. Yet, he still asks her to marry him and strings her along through his sexuality confusion because he believes that she can make him happy.
He constantly refers back to a life that he wants to lead, but a life with a nice home, a wife, and some children. What he fails to question is why he believes those are his true dreams. Even as he leaves for Europe he talks about his father and says, “And we got on quite well, really, for the vision I gave my father of my life was exactly the vision in which I myself most desperately needed to believe (p.20).”What is most interesting as his story goes on is how David is so capable of convincing Hella and Giovanni that he truly loved both of them. He kept both of them in his life but never truly knew what he wanted.
In his mind, he wanted the perfect American family to bring home to his father yet he could never resist the desire for men that he held within. Always in the back of his mind, David knew what Europe was going to be for him. He knew it wasn’t going to be a search for a home but a search for his sexuality. How he uses his two lovers is very intriguing because his “love” for both of them was truly only a sense of security. Davis states about Giovanni, “Sometimes I thought, but this is your life. Stop fighting it.
Stop fighting. Or I thought, but I am happy. And he loves me. I am safe.
Sometimes…I thought, I will never let him touch me again (p.88)”. From Hella to Giovanni his confusion never stops because with Hella his dreams of a life could come true but with Giovanni his deep desire no longer is hidden.As David’s moods swing back and forth his love for each Hella and Giovanni conveniently change. When Hella leaves to go to Spain, David begins a wonderful relationship with Giovanni yet as her return comes closer he begins to question his professed love. He states, “Yet is was true…I wanted children. I wanted to be inside again, with the light and safety, with my manhood unquestioned, watching my woman put my children to bed…I could make it real.
It only demanded a short hard strength for me to become myself again (p.103).” His notion of safety changes and so does his love. Wherever he feels that safety can be found he believes that he has found love yet in reality that his love is only a mask for the fear of the unknown. David seems to be seeking for something to make him feel safe yet that “web of safety” is not something to be found in another person. Rather, that sense of safety that he is looking for must be found within himself.
Since David is not secure with his own identity, he pushes his reflection onto others and onto his surroundings. Upon Hella’s return he wants and expects himself to feel something for her again. He says, “She fitted into my arms, she always had, and the shock of holding her caused me to feel that my arms had been empty since she had been away (p. 120).” It’s almost as if he makes himself feel emotions that aren’t really there because takes them back so quickly.
With a simple stroll down the riverbank, he changes how he feels about Giovanni and once he becomes accustomed to Hella again, he leaves her too. David is so mixed up with his emotions and lies to himself that he no longer feels anything toward either of his two loves. Giovanni says, “…maybe diamonds down there between your legs! You will never give it to anybody; you will never let anybody touch it – man or woman.
You want to be clean (p.141).” Even the sense of security that he covers with the notion of love is gone towards the end of the book.David loses both his loves not only because he reflected upon them the hatred, confusion, and fear that he felt in his body but because he never truly understood himself. Through all his confusion, lust, and notions of love, he is able to finally realize certain things about his life. He is finally able to tell Hella who he really is and to let her vanish from his life because he can no longer pretend to have feelings for her. He can no longer pretend that his desire and passion for men can be ignored just so he can follow his so-called dreams.
He states, “When my fingers began, involuntarily, to loose their hold on Hella, I realized that I was dangling from a high place and that I had been clinging to her for my very life (p. 158)”. What David needed to cling onto was the safety living a life unquestioned and familiar to everyone, which could no longer occur. Once Hella leaves and David is allowed to truly consider the death of Giovanni, he can now begin the search for his identity.
David says, “ I long to make this prophecy come true, I long to crack that mirror and be free…. Yet, the key to my salvation, which cannot save my body, is hidden in my flesh (p.168)”. So, David is finally able to realize that it is not possible to find answers within others but only within his himself and his true identity.