The book begins on the morning of the protagonist John's 14th birthday. Though he plays the role of the well-behaved eldest, he resents his father Gabriel, a preacher, for being so strict, stern, and unloving towards the family. An intelligent child who sometimes wishes he could play like other boys, John is essentially searching for power and place. Later in the book, it is revealed that John is not Gabriel's son, but rather the product of an affair between his mother and someone else that happened before his mother met Gabriel.
Gabriel is John's father. Head deacon of the Temple of the Fire Baptized, Gabriel has anger issues and is abusive to his family. He had been previously married to Deborah, who died young and childless. While married to her, he had an illicit affair with Esther, who bore him a child who was murdered; later, he marries Elizabeth. Gabriel distrusts all white people and blames everyone but himself for his wrongdoings. Growing up, he'd been a troublemaker who was constantly drunk and a womanizer.
John's mother, Elizabeth, is reserved and quiet. Though worn down by hardship and Gabriel's temper, she is a long-suffering and patient woman who had been raised by a strictly religious aunt. John had been her child by Richard, her boyfriend whom she'd gone north to be with. Sadly, Richard committed suicide before John was born (he hadn't known Elizabeth was pregnant), leaving Elizabeth friendless and with child. It's at this time she meets Florence, Gabriel's sister, who introduces her to Gabriel.
Florence is John's aunt and Gabriel's sister. Deeply resentful of Gabriel because of his higher standing as male child in the family (despite being wild and constantly in trouble), she thinks her brother a fool. After a failed marriage, she keeps her eye on Gabriel's family, befriending first Deborah, then Elizabeth, and hounding Gabriel to treat them better. Now ill, she lives to bring Gabriel down.
The young woman with whom Gabriel has an affair while married to Deborah. When Esther becomes pregnant with Gabriel's son, she goes north, disgusted and yet not surprised by Gabriel's refusal to leave his wife. She dies in childbirth.
Royal / Roy
Gabriel has two sons named Royal. The first one is the product of his affair with Esther, and the second is his only legitimate child by Elizabeth.
Gabriel never publicly acknowledges that Royal – his son by Esther - is his illegitimate son. When Esther tells him she is pregnant, he steals the money that Deborah had been saving and gives it to Esther and sends her away, considering her a harlot and feeling repentant himself. Royal dies in a knife-fight in Chicago.
Despite being the apple of his father's eye, Roy – Gabriel’s child by Elizabeth - is as wild as Gabriel had been growing up. He hates his father and does not fulfill the vision that Gabriel had of his seed multiplying. Like Gabriel’s first son, he gets into a knife fight, though he survives.
Gabriel's first wife, Deborah is a long-suffering and gentle woman who cannot bear children. Raped by a group of white men when she was a young girl, Deborah was an object of scorn and fear to the community. Much older than Gabriel, she agreed to marry him when he asked her after he realized how much she had prayed for him and looked after him.
Frank is Florence's husband. Though a good-hearted and faithful man, Frank's inability to save money, get prestigious jobs and friends, and refrain from drunkenness earn him Florence's unreserved scorn. They argue constantly, and finally, after one explosive conversation ten years into their marriage, he leaves her and goes to live with another woman. He dies during World War II, in France.
John is a bit attracted to Brother Elisha, the pastor's nephew. Elisha treats John like a little brother. Elisha is 17 and already a preacher. He teaches the intermediate Sunday school that John and Roy attend.
Ella Mae Washington
The 17-year-old granddaughter of evangelist and pillar of the church Mother Washington, she and Brother Elisha are sternly rebuked by Father James for "walking disorderly."
Sister Price comes to meeting with Sister McCandless, She is described as mild-mannered and unmarried.
Described as the "biggest and blackest woman God had ever made," she is a big-voiced preacher who used to be timid. After hearing the call of the Lord, she decided to go into ministry.
John and Roy's sister, she is a young child full of self-importance. She takes pleasure in being the bearer of bad news to John about Roy getting stabbed.
The main pastor at the Temple of Fire Baptized, he preaches on Pentecost, leads revivals, and anoints and heals the sick.
Deacon Braithwaite is the second deacon at the Temple of Fire Baptized. He takes collection and sometimes preaches.
Go Tell it On the Mountain Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Go Tell it On the Mountain is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.