The America’s Ignorance Towards Homosexuality In Novel Giovanni’s Room

For centuries now, men and women have struggled over their sexuality. It has been noted throughout time that several well-known and highly regarded historical figures have been free with their sexuality on both sides of the spectrum. Basically, homosexual tendencies have been accepted as a normal part of life, and it has never been regarded as wrong. Only now in our new environment as Americans does the idea of homosexuality bring discomfort and distaste to people. In fact, America has almost pushed the homosexual population underground, where they now reside as somewhat of a subculture. Americans have put a huge strain on the gay community by persecuting them and demanding that their way of life is wrong. This phenomenon is particularly prevalent in the middle-class American society; at least it was a lot more in the past. The novel Giovanni’s Room, written by James Baldwin, depicts a young man caught in the troublesome situation of being a gay American in the mid-twentieth century. The character, David, accepts his homosexuality as a boy, but soon learns that his sexual behavior is highly frowned upon by most Americans. With this understanding of homosexual resentment in America, David sets off for Paris in search of an escape from the turmoil that lies at home. David cannot and does not accept his homosexuality because of the ingrained middle-class American attitude towards homosexuals.

David’s father, although not resentful of gay people, wants David to become a man. A man in the classic sense of a man and certainly not a homosexual man:

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“And listen,” said my father suddenly, from the middle of the staircase, in a voice that frightened me, “all I want for David is that he grows up to be a man. And when I say man, Ellen, I don’t mean a Sunday school teacher.” (pg. 24)

David’s father was not suggesting that David was not a man, but our society has set forth preconceived notions about what it means to be a man. When David heard this from his father, he felt as though by being gay, he was somehow disappointing his father. This idea certainly scared David into thinking that his homosexual feelings were bad. Later in Paris, David was able to escape the direct tension that he felt, but his worries still lingered, and he fought to become the person that he thought he should be:

“And we got on quite well. Really, for the vision I gave my father of my life was exactly the vision in which I myself most desperately needed to believe… I had decided to allow no room in the universe for something which shamed and frightened me. I succeeded very well – by not looking at the universe, by not looking at myself, by remaining, in effect, in constant motion.” (pg. 30)

This is such a sad statement. David has become so sure that his sexual feelings are bad that he can’t even look at himself. He fabricates stories for his father to ease his own suffering.

David’s suffering continues to grow as he accepts a gay position in Paris yet has the nagging feeling of guilt brought on by American ignorance. David finds a gay lover named Giovanni who becomes somewhat of a safe haven for David. The only reason that his relationship with Giovanni seems safe is that no one knows about it. David finds pleasure and satisfaction in being with Giovanni, and for a brief time, his American heritage drifts away along with his fears and concerns. Soon enough, though, David becomes nervous that his fiancée is coming back from Spain, and that his little charade would soon have to end:

Hella was on her way back from Spain, and my father had agreed to send me money, which I was not going to use to help Giovanni, who had done so much to help me. I was going to use it to escape his room. (pg. 101)

No matter how hard David tried to be himself, he always had his father and girlfriend to remind him what he was expected to be as an American man: a father and a husband. These people in his life never forced him to change; it was just always expected that he was straight. David’s only salvation from his gay fears is the fact that he is still engaged to Hella. In fact, he glories at the idea that he can once again resume his presumed lifestyle when Hella writes him a letter telling him she is coming back. This news elated him, and he felt American again.

I folded the letter, which I now realized I had been awaiting for many days and nights, and the waiter came and asked me what I wanted to drink. I had meant to order an aperitif, but now, in some grotesque spirit of celebration, ordered a Scotch and soda. And over this drink, which had never seemed more American than it did at that moment, I stared at absurd Paris, which was as cluttered now, under scalding sun, as the landscape of my heart. (pg. 124)

David is associating being straight with being American. It becomes obvious how much David wants to stay straight. He fears his homosexuality, and he fears what it might mean back in America. It seems as though Baldwin is saying that, unlike the rest of the world, or at least Paris, America is an unaccepting place for gay people. David never finds pain in his actions when he thinks of Paris, but as soon as he associates his homosexuality with America, he starts to worry about the retribution that might occur. Hella provides an outlet for David. She is his only link into his “American” lifestyle. When he is with Hella, he feels American and straight:

“I was terribly glad to see her. It really seemed, with Hella in the circle of my arms, that my arms were home and I was welcoming her back there.” (pg. 159)

David so much wants to be straight. He yearns to love Hella, and he wishes that their relationship could be true. But David is only fueling the inevitable fire that burns within him, a fire that could not burn in America.

David can never fully accept his homosexual feelings because of the middle-class American ignorance. Eventually, David not only loses Giovanni, but Hella finally finds him out. David ends up hurting several people during the novel. He is never true to his lovers and certainly not to himself. America, it seems, had a much stronger grasp on David than he cared to acknowledge. In conclusion, David was pushed away from his home in America because of the ignorance towards homosexuals.

An Analysis Of The Story Of Giovanni And David In Novel Giovanni’s Room

Giovanni’s Room begins with David standing in a great house in the south of France, looking at his reflection in the window as night falls. As he stands drinking what will be the first of many drinks before the night ends, he casts his mind back over the chain of events that led him to this most terrible morning of his life. On this morning, his former lover, Giovanni, will die on the guillotine. The novel, divided into two parts, is a long retrospective view of David’s life, a series of brooding flashbacks that rehearse the story of his failed attempt to resolve his sexual identity crisis and understand his betrayal of Giovanni. With his former fiancée headed back home and his former lover sentenced to death, David is left alone to sort out his past life in order to see what he can make of his future. His nightlong vigil leaves him facing the dawn with a “dreadful weight of hope.”

While he regards his face in the darkening glass, he conjures up images of his early years in America, particularly his first homosexual experience with a young friend, Joey. He has always refused to admit the significance of this potent and defining event, lying to himself and everyone else to evade the shame of the beast inside that threatens to condemn him to an unnatural life. He fears the force of his awakened sexuality, and adopts a pattern of flight to avoid coming to terms with flight from an interfering aunt and a distant, adulterous father, and to escape from meaningless friendships and pointless jobs. He finally flees his country, with the half-formed thought that in Europe, in Paris, he will discover and understand this identity that has so far only frightened and confused him.

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In Paris, David falls in with the vaguely bohemian crowd of young expatriates, flirting occasionally with the gay world he knows through an older homosexual acquaintance, Jacques, but remaining proudly above what he sees as its dirt and shame. Yet, he is lonely and unsatisfied. Prompted by persistent concerns about his manhood, David rather flippantly asks an American art student, Hella, to marry him. However, while she is in Spain considering this proposal, David meets Giovanni in a seedy gay bar. It is this handsome young Italian bartender who forces David to confront his sexual fears and ambivalent desires. Terrified but ecstatic, David spends the night in Giovanni’s room. He capitulates at last to the “morning stars” of Giovanni’s eyes: ‘With everything in me screaming No! yet the sum of me sighed Yes.” So, part 1 ends with David’s reluctant but growing acceptance of his homosexuality and Giovanni’s love. In part 2, David turns from that acceptance, and in doing so, denies himself and a world of bright possibilities with Giovanni.

The blissful months David and Giovanni have living together in Giovanni’s crowded little room are not enough to free David from his confusion. When Hella returns, the room begins to seem claustrophobic and dirty, another thing from which to flee. He does flee, taking up with Hella again and leaving Giovanni jobless and in great emotional pain. Giovanni’s love is passionate, violent, and complete. It both exhilarates and terrifies David because it demands an equal intensity in return. This, David cannot give. When they stand, each with a brick in his hand, they could either kill or embrace each other. It is a decisive moment. David is paralyzed. His only response is flight, and he runs away with Hella. His escape, however, comes at an extreme cost: in despair, Giovanni murders Guillaume, his predatory former employer, and is sentenced to death. It is only on this last night of Giovanni’s life that David can confess that he loved Giovanni; but extracted so late, this confession can provide only a filament of hope for David’s future.

Dura’s The Lover 

The Lover has a complex structure that is disguised by its simple sentences and unadorned vocabulary. The novel’s time period shifts between the past and the present, ensuring the narrator oscillates between being an old woman and an adolescent girl. Similarly, Marguerite Duras alternates between writing in the first and third person, which allows the narrator to experience her story as both a participant and a bystander. Repetition is a recurring strategy in the book – phrases and even entire scenes are repeated, major events are fragmented and intercut. For instance, the narrator’s first sexual experience is relayed twice, each time interrupted by other memories. Interestingly, due to her background as a filmmaker, Duras’ use of fragmentation in The Lover lends the novel the aura of a film montage (a juxtaposition of several shots that creates a single impression) with one another.

Duras also digresses substantially from the novel’s main story on occasions, introducing completely unrelated characters, like the social hostesses she met in Paris during World War II. These digressions challenge the reader to account for their presence. The book’s autobiographical nature is one plausible reason for them. Memoirs often appear meandering and unfocused. Another reason has been suggested by writer Barbara Probst Solomon, who noted that the digressions tend to occur around emotionally charged moments. She theorized that the seemingly unrelated material intentionally breaks up the main storyline to obscure facts and emotions that Duras did not wish to disclose.

Regardless of the real-life events Duras may have omitted in The Lover, the novel exudes an impression of frankness and courage. The narrator defies both the conventions of romantic love and traditional gender roles. She is only fifteen when her relationship with the lover commences, and shockingly, she is the seducer rather than the seduced. Duras neither condemns the narrator’s prostitution nor the fact that her sexual pleasure is deeply intertwined with the money her lover provides.

Duras adroitly reverses typical roles in her treatment of racial issues. When the couple first meets, it is the European protagonist who is impoverished and takes the bus, whereas her Chinese lover is a wealthy man’s son, riding in a chauffeured limousine. In a more conventional story, it would be the girl’s family objecting to a cross-racial marriage. Instead, it is the lover’s father who opposes the union, to the point of paying for the narrator’s return to France. Through these and other such reversals, Duras highlights that class takes precedence over race, with skin color playing a secondary role to wealth.

Unsurprisingly, this unconventional depiction of race and class has sparked some controversy. Some critics have accused Duras of suggesting that it was the French colonizers, not the native peoples, who were exploited when parts of Indochina formed a French colony. For instance, the family’s poverty primarily stems from an ill-fated real estate deal, with the mother getting duped due to her ignorance about the necessity to bribe local officials to secure fertile land.

Duras has also come under fire for the political views she expresses in “The Lover”. In one passage, she equates communists with the collaborators who aided the Germans during the occupation of France in World War II. She has been accused of rewriting history, especially given her own background as a former communist who worked against collaborators during the war. Additionally, she has been criticized for the novel’s sympathetic portrayal of the Fernandezes, described as collaborators. As infuriating as these passages may be to some readers, they can be classified as part of the novel’s general strategy of inverting conventions and confounding expectations. The debate over “The Lover” is typical of Duras’ career. Critical opinion of her work has been intensely divided. Some, sometimes called “Durasophiles,” have strongly praised her writings for their redefinition of the feminine, especially in matters of sexuality and worldview. Some have even adopted her writing style in their analyses of her work. The opposing camp, dubbed “Durasophobes,” falls into two groups: those who believe that Duras pushes the definition of the feminine so far that it becomes masculine, and those who feel that she does not push it far enough.

“Corregidora” explores how sexual and other relationships between men and women can become a battleground for domination and examines the ways in which violence inflicted by one generation can continue to harm future generations. Throughout the novel, the stories of Ursa’s ancestors are repeatedly told in flashbacks, identified by the use of italics. However, many of Ursa’s memories of Mutt are also presented in italics, emphasizing her confusion of feelings toward Mutt and Corregidora. This confusion is exacerbated by Mutt’s insulting and abusive actions toward Ursa, which recall Corregidora’s treatment of Great Gram and Gram. Even when Ursa and Mutt reunite after many years, the sex act between them that concludes the novel has an element of hostility, leading Ursa to contemplate the inevitability of antagonism in sexual relationships between men and women. The issue of slavery is not nearly so thoroughly explored in “Corregidora”, but it is the relationship that establishes the pattern for Ursa’s understanding of male-female relationships. Great Gram and Gram were owned by Corregidora, hence he had control over them. Great Gram’s sexuality, which Corregidora also tried to control, was her only weapon against him. Because the records of Corregidora’s Brazilian prostitution operation were all destroyed when slavery was abolished in Brazil, Ursa, like her mother, grows up with the exhortation to reproduce to provide evidence that this slavery indeed existed, teaching Ursa that she too must use her sexuality as a weapon against slavery.

Beyond that, though, the impulse to dominate one another, so visible in both of Ursa’s marriages, seems to be an impulse to master one another. That is, slavery is a useful metaphor for the destructive aspects of these marriages, especially Ursa’s marriage to Mutt. This becomes eminently clear when, towards the end of their brief marriage, Mutt tells Ursa that he is going to auction her off the next time she performs onstage. Mutt’s explicit meaning is that he is going to sell her as though she were a prostitute, but the image also suggests the public auction of a slave. Further, prostitution and slavery are especially linked for Ursa, whose grandmother and great-grandmother were both prostitutes and slaves. The fact that Mutt attempts so aggressively to master Ursa’s sexuality suggests that the linkage between sexuality and domination is not caused only by the particularly horrid facts of Ursa’s background. Instead, the novel seems to imply that this linkage is a more general condition affecting the lives and loves of men and women.

Corregidora begins with the event that ends Ursa’s first marriage. Her husband, Mutt Thomas, not knowing she is pregnant, knocks her down a stairway in a fit of jealous rage, causing her to miscarry and forcing her to have a hysterectomy. Tadpole McCormick, her employer, and Cat Lawson, her friend, help to nurse Ursa back to health, but neither fully understands how devastating a blow it has been for Ursa to lose the ability to bear a child. The narrative is frequently interrupted by Ursa’s memories of being told about her grandmother and great-grandmother, whom Ursa calls Gram and Great Gram, respectively. Gram and Great Gram endured lives of sexual bondage to Corregidora, a Brazilian slave owner who thus became both Ursa’s grandfather and great-grandfather. It is clear that without the power to fulfill their wish that she reproduces, Ursa now feels unable to avoid dwelling on these painful stories. Furthermore, she focuses her own angers and resentments towards her husband on these stories, and they seem to intensify, so that she feels these memories as strongly as if they were her own.

After being released from the hospital, Ursa stays with Tadpole for a few days, and then with Cat Lawson, until she discovers that Cat is a lesbian. Although Cat had been her most strong-minded friend and best source of advice, Ursa avoids her and moves back in with Tadpole. Feeling rootless, Ursa drifts into a sexual relationship and hastily-conceived marriage with Tadpole. The marriage soon begins to crumble under the weight of Ursa’s increasingly paralyzing memories of Gram and Great Gram’s lives, which Ursa has a hard time separating from her own life.

When her second marriage falls apart, Ursa travels home to her mother for a quick visit. For years, her mother had dismissed Ursa’s questions about her father by describing a casual affair that led to a pregnancy. Now Ursa wants the full story, which she gets; more importantly, however, she and her mother both acknowledge the burdensome weight of their ancestors’ memories. At the end of this section of the novel, Ursa finally wonders, “What had I been doing about my own life?”

As if to answer this question, Ursa begins to focus on her own life in the third section of the novel. In particular, she focuses on the development of her sexuality. In one telling passage, she remembers the revulsion she felt when a childhood friend, May Alice, had a baby out of wedlock. She swore to May Alice that she was never going to have a baby herself. This leads to Ursa’s memories of becoming a singer and her memories of how Mutt Thomas distinguished himself from the other men who pursued her. Her relationship with Mutt is shown developing from flirtation to intimacy to control in a very quick manner. Mutt becomes obsessed, first with trying to control her onstage demeanor—which had originally attracted him to her—and later with wanting to humiliate her. Finally, Mutt’s obsession leads to the incident that begins the novel, in which he knocks Ursa down a flight of stairs.

JT LeRoy Sarah

“The major feature of the novel is a twelve-year-old boy, whose mother, Sarah, is a truck-stop prostitute (a.k.a. lot lizard). Despite her abusive and neglectful behavior, he idolizes her beauty and the way she manipulates men. Hoping to surpass her skill, he starts working for a pimp named Glad, who specializes in transvestite prostitutes. Glad is a merciful pimp – he doesn’t let his youngest protege overwork himself. Disheartened, the boy decides to seek the Jackalope, a legendary piece of road kill at a nearby truck stop that is said to bring luck to all ‘lot lizards.’ There, he meets Pooh, a young female prostitute, and her pimp, Le Loup, who mistakes him for a girl and offers him a job. His journey continues as he is mistaken for a saint at his new truck stop. When it is revealed that he is not a saint but a boy, his life takes a dangerous turn. Fortunately for him, Glad and the transvestite prostitutes have concocted a plan to rescue him.”

For the past five years, Albert had been doing exactly that – crafting a persona that would captivate audiences. After her careers in the sex industry and music had failed, she focused on becoming JT LeRoy. She showed close friends a replica of the unpublished manuscript of the novel “Sarah,” claiming it was written by a young man she knew through her work with sexual health outreach. To other friends, however, she boasted that she wrote it.

When it was published by Bloomsbury in April 2000, “Sarah,” written by JT LeRoy, caused a sensation in the publishing world. The provocative narrative, told in teenage slang, suggested an autobiography. The androgynous 12-year-old protagonist known as Cherry Vanilla, competes with his mother, Sarah, for clients at truck stops in the South.

As the book garnered attention through reviews and articles, the backstory – which entailed the author’s experiences as a homeless young boy – was also brought to light. He was eventually taken off the streets of San Francisco by a kind-hearted doctor and a host of supportive authors and reviewers. He was then encouraged to put his traumatic experiences into writing. Initially, Albert didn’t reveal that LeRoy was HIV-positive; yet at some point amidst the media hype, rumors circulated about LeRoy having the virus. The rumor was never quashed by Albert and it continued to disseminate across articles and blogs.

Albert resorted to alter ego tactics she had previously used with her band – she adopted the role of a publicist to promote herself. “Dear friends,” she wrote in an email blast, “I am writing to recommend a book, one that I’m fairly certain will be unlike any other you’ve ever read. It just debuted on the LA Times Best Seller list at number 10! It’s by a new author, JT LeRoy and the book is titled, ‘Sarah.’ The reviews and word of mouth have been phenomenal.” Supportive emails from friends followed suit.

“For a first novelist, JT LeRoy is astonishingly confident,” wrote Catherine Texier in the New York Times Book Review. “His dialect transforms the tawdriness of hustling into a world of lyrical and grotesque attractiveness, without losing any of its authenticity.” Suzanne Vega endorsed the book with the following blurb: “JT LeRoy has a gift, to be able to articulate his world so vividly and passionately, with grace and wit, but without glossing over the pain and brutality of it.”

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