Giovanni's Room

Major themes

One theme of Giovanni's Room is social alienation. Susan Stryker notes that prior to writing Giovanni's Room, James Baldwin had recently emigrated to Europe and "felt that the effects of racism in the United States would never allow him to be seen simply as a writer, and he feared that being tagged as gay would mean he couldn't be a writer at all."[1] In Giovanni's Room, David is faced with the same type of decision; on the surface he faces a choice between his American fiancee (and value set) and his European boyfriend, but ultimately, like Baldwin, he must grapple with "being alienated by the culture that produced him."[1] In keeping with the theme of social alienation, this novel also explores the topics of origin and identity. As English Professor Valerie Rohy of the University of Vermont explains, “Questions of origin and identity are central to James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, a text which not only participates in the tradition of the American expatriate novel exemplified by Stein and, especially, by Henry James but which does so in relation to the African American idiom of passing and the genre of the passing novel. As such, Giovanni’s Room poses questions of nationalism, nostalgia, and the constitution of racial and sexual subjects in terms that are especially resonant for contemporary identity politics." [3]

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