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Written by Fariha Islam
Home is somewhere one should feel the safest but not for the social "outcasts" like the homosexuals of earlier centuries. As most of the countries still detest the practice of homosexuality, people for ages had had to leave their homes and start afresh. David and Giovanni both have left home and come to Paris for a fresh start. At home they felt the most threatened; to be found out or worst yet punished for their choice and hence, fled. Home symbolizes a horror for David and yet when he is in distress, he knows home/his father is the only place he can turn to. The ironic portrayal of home is used by Baldwin to rather protest the way society and the families had been treating the homosexual individuals forever.
The word “dirty” is used in an ironic manner in the narrative when Giovanni states, “The only time they do not use them, most people I mean, is when they are describing something dirty.” It simply states how people always seem to use the “dirty” tag for the things that are not dirty in any sense yet never refer to the real dirty stuff as so. The statement, however, points to a larger issue in fact through which Baldwin pinpoints the anomaly in the society and in people’s mind where a very natural phenomenon like homosexuality is deemed as extremely dirty and crime punishable by law yet the sexual assaults, murders and suicides are more acceptable or less dirty than homosexuality in a sense. Hence, the fact that “dirty” is the label put on everything but the real dirty stuff and that is one big irony.
Irony of David’s Homosexuality
David’s homosexuality turns out to be the biggest irony of the novel. He flees home for the fear of his homosexual self to be found out. Yet comes to Paris and sets out to marry his girlfriend, Hella. When Hella is away, he finds true love and falls for Giovanni. David never truly opens up to Giovanni because he always wanted to leave him and marry Hella. His sincere care for Hella makes a case of him being bisexual in nature which later is marred by the fact that since meeting Giovanni, he could never be as intimate with Hella as he used to be. Throughout the novel, David’s homosexuality remains an irony until he confesses that he loved Giovanni after him being executed and is found in a gay bar by Hella at the very end of the novel.
After returning from her trip to Spain, Hella expresses how her sense of femininity has been revolutionized. Hella taking a time off to think over the decision of getting married seems like a very liberal and modern act by a woman from the beginning of the novel. But as she returns, she confesses that how she used to think women can live as they please is all wrong and a woman’s true purpose is to find a man and be led by him. The realization is quite ironic in the sense that David was struggling with his feminine side when Hella shares her changed outlook on femininity and hints to somewhat differ. On the other hand, David thinks of himself as a housewife while cleaning Giovanni’s room as Giovanni worked at the bar yet while arguing, David brings up how he does not want to be Giovanni’s housewife. When David felt his insecurities creeping up about his masculinity, he does not refrain from bashing femininity as something less desirable yet while extremely elated, he liked to clean and take care of Giovanni’s room willingly. But tagging certain acts or feelings as feminine and later be terrorized by them creeping up in one’s own self could be the real irony of patriarchy.
The fact that homosexuality is a crime in very many countries still, it enables the society or its people to turn a blind eye to the homosexual population’s distress and their vulnerability to ending up living a life of poverty, sexual assaults or criminal offense just because they were not accepted as normal. Homosexuality being deemed a crime is the real irony here as what it is doing to the people who are becoming outcasts by this law; either incriminating them or turning them into victims of actual crimes. In both cases, a natural phenomenon being deemed as criminal is giving birth to other actual crimes that needed our attention in the first place. Where keeping all types of people in harmony and ensuring their safety would have been simpler and more rational thing to practice, the society decides to tag something innocent as a “crime” which paves the way for serious criminal offense and puts everyone in harm’s way as a result.
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