Defining spaces: Giovanni's Room and the journey to identity

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Celestin, Amber
Griffith, Jean Carol
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James Baldwin argues throughout his work that identity and an honest sense of self can only be attained through a personal journey that involves more than just movement from one point to another; it must also lead to a change within and an acceptance of self. In Giovanni's Room, the main character David travels a journey devoid of personal growth and acceptance. A white, homosexual man, David finds himself trapped in a white, straight, masculine, American ideal which does not define him. He spends the novel trying to outrun and reject his past and aspects of his identity which he wishes to ignore. Through David's struggles, Baldwin shows a connection between internal and external spaces, and establishes a link between choice and acceptance when creating a personal identity. Baldwin establishes self-reflection to be the only means of creating a personal identity that is able to balance acceptance with self-invention. He explores this self-reflection in terms of internal/external and choice/acceptance throughout the novel, showing the struggle to be both personal and shared with the community to which one attempts to belong. In this essay I examine the connection between internal/external and choice/acceptance in light of Baldwin's belief that every American must undertake an honest journey of self-discovery in order to establish an inclusive rather than exclusive personal and national identity. I link that journey of identity to David's perpetual movement through the inner and outer spaces of the novel, a movement which reflects that of his ancestors and many Americans before him. I also explore American views of masculinity and homosexuality, and how Baldwin shows these views to affect David (and all Americans) in his search for self and home.

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Thesis (M.A.)--Wichita State University, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Dept. of English.
Wichita State University
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