Along with David’s internal struggle, he seems to also be in conflict with gay culture. He seems to find most of the gay men he encounters disgusting and their personal lives “despicable” (as he says to Jacques in Pt 1, ch. 3). I think David’s opinions and musings on this culture reveal something of Baldwin’s own ideas.
At the end of Part 2, Chapter 1 David says, “…one day I would not be with Giovanni anymore. And would I then, like all the others, find myself turning and following all kinds of boys
down God knows what dark avenues, into what dark places?” This is one of the central questions of the novel: Will David eventually become like Jacques and the other older men he is so disgusted by?
Baldwin suggests that it’s very possible. When David expresses his contempt for Jacques’ lifestyle, he responds that David ought to be more sympathetic, saying, “‘You ought to have some apprehension that the man you see before you was once even younger than you are now and arrived at his present wretchedness by imperceptible degrees.’” He goes on to warn David that he may reach the same fate if he doesn’t allow himself to love Giovanni. “‘You play it safe long enough,’ he said, in a different tone, ‘and you’ll end up trapped in your own dirty body, forever and forever and forever—like me.’” Here, Baldwin seems to be saying that due to their own fear of their sexuality (and societal pressures), gay culture has become geared entirely towards sex rather than fulfilling relationships. Because casual sex carries no commitment, these men feel more comfortable engaging in it without ever forming a true connection with the other person. This leaves them empty and alone, looking upon David and Giovanni’s relationship with “a curious attitude, composed of an unpleasant maternalism, and envy, and disguised dislike.”
1. David believes his relationship with Giovanni is doomed because they are both men. To what extent do you think the failure of their relationship is due to societal pressures, as opposed to David’s personal issues?
2. Do you think David’s critical attitude towards flamboyant gay men is out of line? Is it wrong for him to make such harsh assessments, even though they’re about his own culture?