Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

Discussion Questions

1. Did this book make you angry?

2. How do you feel about David as a character? Is he sympathetic?

3. When does David realise he is gay? What upsets him most about this self-revelation: his relationship with Giovanni, with Hella, with his father?

4. What’s the role of Hella in the story? Does she stand for conventionality? Is Baldwin’s depiction of her misogynistic?

5. Were you sympathetic to Giovanni? What did you think about his history – the loss of a child, his abandonment of his home? How did that influence his current life?

6. Would a story like this be written today?

7. Is it important that this novel is set in France? How do the American characters view Europe? How do the Europeans view Americans?

8. What does Giovanni’s room symbolise? Is the disorder and squalor of his room symbolic of society’s attitude towards homosexuality?

9. What role does alcohol play in this story?

10. Do you think Giovanni and David love each other? Is Baldwin arguing that it’s impossible for two men to love each other, and that their relationship can only be founded on lust?

11. How does David feel about Giovanni in the end? And how does he feel about himself?

12. Baldwin said he didn’t include any black characters in the book because he didn’t want to write about race and homosexuality at the same time. Do you think this would still be an issue today? As quoted in the Guardian: “I certainly could not possibly have – not at that point in my life – handled the other great weight, the ‘negro problem’,” he said, in 1980. “The sexual-moral light was a hard thing to deal with. I could not handle both propositions in the same book. There was no room for it.”

13. What is the role of older gay men, especially Jacques and Guillaume, especially in relation to the young men? What gaps and hierarchies does that reveal within the gay male community, as it’s being depicted here? What does all this have to do with the crime that happens later in the novel?

14. How did you feel about the end of the novel? What did you think the reader is supposed to take away from it?


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