Go Tell it On the Mountain

Go Tell it On the Mountain Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Write an analysis of Gabriel's character. Is he a good man? Why or why not? Might he be able to change himself in the future? Are there any other characters in literature to which he is similar? Include references.

    Gabriel considers himself to be a man of God, called by God from a life of sin to that of ministry. And yet, Gabriel is cruel, hypocritical, and controlling. It's hard to point to any really redeeming qualities in Gabriel at the time of the novel, and yet Baldwin's portrayal of him is not phrased in a way that we can completely write off Gabriel as a lost cause. He is still harsh and unbending, but the quality of John's transformation may, over time, soften Gabriel. Time itself may also soften Gabriel; then again, it might not. In that way he is similar to Denethor from Lord of the Rings, who nearly drove his son to suicide through his lack of love and warmth toward him.

  2. 2

    Describe Gabriel's relationship to John. Why is it so complicated? How does John see the relationship? How does John's relationship to Gabriel change after the conversion? Do you think Gabriel will eventually love John as a son and brother?

    Gabriel is John's stepfather. Embittered by his legitimate sons' refusals to recognize the error of their ways and turn to religion (as Gabriel did), he sees John as the product of sin, and therefore an illegitimate claim to Gabriel's—and, indeed God's—love. So when John seems to have been saved and become a believer, Gabriel feels skeptical and maybe a little bit betrayed. John on the other hand, not knowing Gabriel and Elizabeth's stories, only sees Gabriel as a hateful, controlling, and angry man. After his conversion, John's scope of living has been expanded. Gabriel is still a puzzle to him, but John now has a more adult understanding and patience. He is determined to prove to Gabriel the validity of his conversion.

  3. 3

    Describe Elizabeth and Richard's relationship. What were its strengths and weaknesses? Should Elizabeth have refused to go away with Richard? Should Elizabeth have told Richard about the pregnancy? Why did Richard kill himself?

    The biggest strength of Elizabeth and Richard’s relationship was the real and abundant love that each of them had for the other. They thought it would be enough to get them through the hardships - and the excitements - of living in the city. It might have been--were it not for the vicious racism involved in the incident where Richard was wrongly accused of committing a crime just because he happened to be black and in the wrong place at the wrong time. That was the final straw for Richard, already struggling to define himself and to prove his fundamental equality with white people through self-educating. Because of that, there's no easy answer as to whether or not Elizabeth should have told Richard about the pregnancy.

  4. 4

    Why was Florence so bitter? What did she truly want from life?

    Florence's bitterness and resentment stem from several different things:

    1. The sacrifices she had to make as a woman for Gabriel.

    2. Gabriel's inability to appreciate and make the most of, or deserve, her sacrifices.

    3. Gabriel's continued cruelty toward the women and children in his life.

    4. Her yearning for status and equality, and her inability to achieve them no matter what actions she took.

    For all her pains, Florence becomes ill, beyond medical help, proud, and lonely.

  5. 5

    What do you think will happen to Roy in the future? Create a story of his life, as you imagine that it will unfold.

    After the book's conclusion, Roy is still very angry and bitter towards Gabriel, particularly after Gabriel hit Elizabeth. Yet he doesn't know what's happened to John, and the difference in John is going to take a while to sink in. Roy will be angry at first, and scoff and mock at John for buying into the whole religion that serves as Gabriel's excuse to mistreat his family. But after a while, probably after Roy has grown up and moved away/become fully estranged from Gabriel (and perhaps from Elizabeth, too), he'll realize the profundity of the change in John. It will reconcile him with John and Elizabeth - and perhaps with Gabriel too, since the years may have changed or mellowed him.