“I know,” she said, with a smile, releasing him and rising, “there’s a whole lot of things you don’t understand. But don’t you fret. The Lord’ll reveal to you in His own good time everything He wants you to know” (Baldwin 33).
Revelation is a central theme in James Baldwin’s Go Tell it on the Mountain. Each character stands to reveal some truth about themselves or another. Elizabeth struggles with revealing her sorrows, doubts, and even her past. Her shame prevents her from telling Johnny about his biological father. Johnny yearns to reveal his love for Elisha and is feels guilty about having sexual thoughts. Florence is determined to one day reveal Gabriel’s past transgressions to Elizabeth and the greater community; and Gabriel believes God has revealed forgiveness to him for denying his deceased son and his mother. We see that none of the characters ends up revealing these feelings or secrets in the way that would offer the redemption they seek. What role does shame and guilt play in each of these characters’ search for redemption?
The novel’s strong focus on Christianity and the black church presents two extremes for how the characters think and act. They are either rebelling against the church or living to the letter of its law. Each character is searching for something in church, expecting religion to provide them with the peace of mind that will set them free. Though Johnny is at first resistant to submitting to Christian practices, we see that he is overcome by the Holy Spirit. Johnny’s experience at the altar takes him on a journey through darkness, which he must pass through to come to the light. “Then John saw the Lord—for a moment only; and the darkness, for a moment only, was filled with a light he could not bear. Then, in a moment, he was set free; his tears sprang as from a fountain; his heart, like a fountain of waters, burst. Then he cried: “Oh blessed Jesus! Oh, Lord Jesus! Take me through!” (Baldwin 266). But when Johnny comes through this experience, proclaiming salvation, his father is unable to smile at him. His father, the preacher, still holds some resentment toward him even after making this triumphant journey to the Lord. What do you think Baldwin wants to the reader to take from this? Does Baldwin want to leave the reader with a negative impression of the black church?
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