Go Tell it On the Mountain

Go Tell it On the Mountain Summary and Analysis of the Prayers of the Saints: Elizabeth's Prayer


The story now shifts to Elizabeth's point of view. Her childhood had been cut short by the death of her mother, who had been sickly, beautiful, and not particularly maternal. Her father had been the exact opposite. He loved her very much, buying her things and spending time with her. She had never told him about her illegitimate son, but knew he would have loved John. After her mother died, her aunt decided her father was not capable of raising an innocent child and took her away from him. Elizabeth was bitter and angry about the enforced separation, but her aunt had separated them because her father ran a brothel. Elizabeth hated her aunt for it and bided her time until she could leave her aunt's house.

Finally, she meets Richard, a sullen grocery clerk who turns out to be not so sullen when she comes in alone, dressed in her finest, to get some lemons for her aunt. They are going to a church picnic. She falls in love with him instantaneously, and she starts bargaining with her aunt for her freedom. Her aunt agrees to let her go to New York (for the jobs and opportunities that wouldn't be available to her in the South) under the supervision of a distant relative; Richard had planned to go there after the summer ended, though Elizabeth didn't tell her aunt that. There, they planned to get married.

However, it wasn't the fairy tale Elizabeth imagined. She finds work as a chambermaid in the hotel Richard works at as an elevator boy. In New York, she realizes that it wasn't due to her own strength she managed to keep from sleeping with Richard--it was fear of her aunt and lack of opportunity. Now, guilt over her fallen state plagues her, and she wonders if she is like the women who used to come to her father's "house." She learns too that there is no place in Richard's or his friends' hearts for Jesus, and that the North is really not so different from the South. Her respectable relative turned out to be an uncaring spiritualist who didn't really look after Elizabeth. But Richard truly loved Elizabeth, and always made sure she knew it.

Richard loved her very much. The more things they did together, the more he would tell her about himself. He hadn't gone much to school, but had determined never to let a white man outdo him--so he learned to read, write, and think. But restlessness seized him and he could never figure out what he wanted from life.

When she got pregnant, she didn't tell him, and wonders if that would have changed how things turned out. After he missed a date with her and she doesn't hear from him, she goes to his home only to find that he hadn't been in all weekend. While she was at his home, two policemen came in and told her that he was in jail for robbing a white man's store. She didn't believe them, and when she finally was able to see him he told her that after he had left her the last time she saw him (which had been at 2AM), he had gone to the train station and was waiting for his train, when the three black boys who had robbed the store ran into the station. They were caught, and the policemen and the storeowner did not believe Richard when he swore that he had not been there. The other boys had sworn that he wasn't either, but nobody believed them. Richard was duly imprisoned with the rest of them, to Elizabeth's grief and dismay.

Elizabeth was terrified, but still didn't tell him she was pregnant. Due to lack of evidence, he is freed, but the entire experience devastates him. After a night in Elizabeth's arms, he commits suicide by slitting his wrists.

The story shifts back to the prayer meeting, and Elizabeth idly finds herself wondering whether John has stood up yet. She recognizes a hardness in him that will be tough to break, but knows it will break like she and Richard broke. She thinks about the hardships she'd undergone and how her life had changed, how her mentality and faith and sense of self had been broken up and reshaped and changed by her experiences. She worries too that trying to protect John will gain the same results it did for Richard: destruction. She wonders if it would have been better to give John up for adoption to people who would love him and care for him better than she could, especially as she knows that Gabriel only loves her because she is the mother of his son.

She had met Gabriel through Florence, when John was 6 months old. The two had struck up a friendship while working as cleaning women on Wall Street, almost in spite of Elizabeth, who had kept to herself. Elizabeth was intrigued by Florence's intense and angry dignity, and the older woman spent a lot of time telling Elizabeth about her dead husband. However, Florence said that he adored her and filled her ever whim.

When Gabriel came for a visit, Elizabeth is intrigued to find him full of vitality and strangely loving and gracious toward her and John. She is drawn to him despite Florence's warnings, finding it hard to see what Florence so despised. During their dinnertime conversation (which focused on what it meant to live without sin, whether in the North or South, or country or city), Elizabeth starts to feel hopeful again. Memories of Richard still bring her pain, but Gabriel becomes her strength, playing with John and bringing him things. He had confided to Elizabeth that his fondest desire and one that he prayed for was a son. Maybe, though Elizabeth, John would be that son for both of them.

Soon, they are walking together to church. She tells him that before he had come into her life, she had been burdened under the weight of her shame and sin. He does not judge her, and tells her again to give her heart to the Lord. He also asks her to pray and consider accepting his offer of marriage. He promises to love her and John and to provide faithfully for them. She agrees.

As Elizabeth concludes her reminiscence, she is brought back to the church setting and is amazed to find John lying astonished underneath the power of the Lord on the threshing-floor.


Complete devotion is a common motif in Elizabeth's life. When she loves, she loves absolutely; when she hates, she hates absolutely. She loves her father unconditionally even though he failed to come back for her; she hates her aunt unconditionally for taking her away from her father. She loves Richard unconditionally, partly because she knows she grounds him, for all her innocence. When she meets Gabriel, she loves him for his strength and willingness to provide for her and John. Yet she is with Gabriel long enough to realize that her faith in him is misplaced; perhaps she was too young, or too blind to his faults, or too flattered by his attention. In any case, he hadn't seemed to judge her until later, and Baldwin does not make it easy for us to assess if it was her naiveté that obscured Gabriel's actual attitude, or he changed and grew more bitter.

On page 186, there is a poignant personification of the North and South. "There was not, after all, a great difference between the world of the North and that of the South which she had fled; there was only this difference: the North promised more. And this similarity: what it promised it did not give, and what it gave, at length and grudgingly with one hand, it took back with the other."

In one of Baldwin's subtler references to Scripture, an exchange between Richard and Elizabeth parallels the exchange between Peter and Jesus in John 21. When Jesus asks Peter, "Peter, do you love me?" Peter answers, "Yes, Lord, you know I love you." A similar exchange happens when Richard asks Elizabeth, "Little-Bit--d'you love me?"

"And she wondered how he could doubt it. She thought how infirm she must be not to have been able to make him know it; and she raised her eyes to his, and she said the only thing she could say: "I wish to God I may die if I don't love you. There ain't no sky above us if I don't love you" (pg. 190).

On page 209, Baldwin references King David. In response to John's attraction to the music, Gabriel tells him, "Got a man in the Bible, son, who liked music too. He used to play on his harp before the king, and he got to dancing one day before the Lord." Before becoming king, David was a shepherd boy whose skills with music were all that would calm the restless King Saul, who would later be supplanted by David. This story can be found in 1 Samuel 16.