"Beyond Sixth Avenue the movie houses began, and now he studied the stills carefully, trying to decide which of all these theaters he should enter. He stopped at last before a gigantic, colored poster that represented a wicked woman, half undressed, leaning in a doorway, apparently quarreling with a blond man who stared wretchedly into the street. The legend above their heads was: 'There's a fool like him in every family--and a woman next door to take him over!' He decided to see this, for he felt identified with the blond young man, the fool of his family, and he wished to know more about his so blatantly unkind fate" (pg. 40)
Baldwin spends a lot of time painting a vivid picture of John's time in the city, because the entire scene is a sort of crossroads for John: take the path of worldly pleasures and sophistication through his intelligence, or take the holier path?
"Frank sang the blues, and he drank too much. His skin was the color of caramel candy. Perhaps for this reason she always thought of him as having candy in his mouth, candy staining the edges of his straight, cruel teeth. For a while, he wore a tiny mustache, but she made him shave it off, for it made him look, she thought, like a half-breed gigolo. In details such as this he was always very easy--he would always put on a clean shirt, or get his hair cut, or come with her to Uplift meetings where they heard speeches by prominent Negroes about the future and duties of the Negro race. And this had given her, in the beginning of their marriage, the impression that she controlled him. This impression had been entirely and disastrously false" (pg. 90)
This is another example of Baldwin's phenomenal writing skills. In just a couple lines, Baldwin uses all the senses: sound (Frank sang the blues. Note how the type of music - the blues - adds texture to the sound), taste and sight (color of caramel candy; mustache; candy-stained teeth; sharp edges), and even, though indirectly, scent (again, the caramel).
"And his mind, dwelling bitterly on Elizabeth, yet moved backward to consider once again Esther, who had been the mother of the first Royal. And he saw her, with the dumb, pale, startled ghosts of joy and desire hovering in him yet, a thin, vivid, dark-eyed girl, with something Indian in her cheekbones and her carriage and her hair; looking at him with that look in which were blended mockery, affection, desire, impatience, and scorn; dressed in the flamelike colors that, in fact, she had seldom worn, but that he always thought of her as wearing. She was associated in his mind with flame; with fiery leaves in the autumn, and the fiery sun going down in the evening over the farthest hill, and with the eternal fires of Hell" (pg. 130)
With this stunning imagery, Baldwin shows the reader what drew Gabriel so irrevocably to Esther. In some ways, the striking imagery shifts the light in which the reader sees Gabriel: Esther is stunning, and the siren-like/temptress attributes and the flame-like colors (it's really interesting to note that the things that make her particularly alluring are attributes that Gabriel gives her) really capture the reader's mental eye.
"The trembling he had known in darkness had been the echo of their joyful feet--these feet, bloodstained forever, and washed in many rivers--they moved on the bloody road forever, with no continuing city, but seeking one to come: a city out of time, not made with hands, but eternal in the heavens. No power could hold this army back, no water disperse them, no fire consume them. One day they would compel the earth to heave upward, and surrender the waiting dead. They sang, where the darkness gathered, where the lion waited, where the fire cried, and where the blood ran down" (pg. 233)
The imagery here is rooted in common religious language: it serves to elevate the entire vision experience—and, frankly, the entire novel itself—to the level of archetypes and images that are larger than life, apocalyptic even. At the conclusion of his vision, John takes his place among this larger than life army of the dead. He is saved.
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.