Go Tell it On the Mountain

Go Tell it On the Mountain Literary Elements


Semi-autobiographical novel.

Setting and Context

1930s Harlem.

Narrator and Point of View

Third-person omniscient narrator.

Tone and Mood

The tone tends to be tense, dramatic, and at times visionary; the mood tends to be reflective, emotional, and/or weary.

Protagonist and Antagonist

The protagonist is 14-year-old John; the antagonist is his stepfather, Gabriel.

Major Conflict

There are two major conflicts: Gabriel with (all) his family members, and John with himself during his time on the threshing-floor.


The climax occurs when John comes through his conversion experience.


In a sense, John's time in the city and at the movie theater foreshadows what John's life would be like, should he choose to leave the church completely. Perhaps successful for a time--sophisticated and with money, even--but not, ultimately, happy.




Baldwin's writing style is rich with allusions to Scripture. See chapter analyses for detailed lists of Bible references.


Like the allusions, much of Baldwin's imagery is richly influenced by the Bible. See the chapter analyses and the imagery section for more.




Part of Baldwin's genius is in showing the inner lives of characters that are faced with and often fall into the same ways of living. Baldwin differentiates his characters by showing their internal thought processes as they face their trials. For example: Gabriel has an affair with Esther out of pure lust and attraction; he feels guilt over falling into temptation and refuses the son that was the product of the affair (though he experiences turmoil over his decision to refuse him). That son dies through racial violence. Elizabeth, on the other hand, also has an affair--but out of love with the deeply tormented Richard, who commits suicide over the racism he experienced. Elizabeth can't bring herself to say that she regrets it or that she wouldn't do it again if she could; she loves John and refuses to apologize for him. John, though not Gabriel's biological son, ends up being the ideal Christian son.

Metonymy and Synecdoche



Death is personified in John's vision.