Sunday, March 21, 2010

Go Tell It On The Mountain - James Baldwin

"The Word was fulfilled one morning, before she was awake. Many of the stories her mother told meant nothing to Florence; she knew them for what they were, tales told by an old black woman in a cabin in the evening to distract her children from cold and hunger. But the story of this day she was never to forget; it was a day for which she lived. There was a great running and shouting, said her mother, and as she opened her eyes to the light of that day, so bright and cold, she was certain that the judgement trumpet had sounded. Bathsheba shouted ," Rise up , rise up , Sister Rachel, and see God's deliverance ! He has brought us out of Egypt, just like he promised, and we are free at last !'

Slavery is banned, and the back people are 'liberated'.  However, there is no change in their living condition. The community is still isolated and have their own world of living. The white man is still an evil. Their livelihood is still depended on the work provided by the white folks. The year is 1935, and it is half a century past the the declaration and the situation is not improved greatly. Some of the people moved up ( those subject of this novel), migrating from the hard affected South to the 'greener pastures' of the North, without any great difference.

I had not heard his name until recently and after reading this book, I will definitely put him along with the other Black American Writers I have read. This book was published in 1953, his first book. Spanning over a day and a night mass, this emotional, spiritual and partly gospel book takes us through the emotional liberation of three elders and a spiritual awakening of the young John Grimes. John Grimes,  goes through the spiritual baptism on a Saturday night mass, lasting the whole night. The atmosphere is so powerful that his parents and aunt who kneel next to him in the prayer, goes through the process of redemption. Their sinful(?) pasts, their history hidden beneath the surface for a long time and their internal anger and fear, all come out of the closet. One after other they recounts and re-validate their life against the spiritual and moral measures of the church and goes through the process of cleansing. John Grimes, on whose 14th birthday, when the mass is organised, collapses at the end and goes through delirious fits and visions. However, he seeks the help of the God to take him through and emerge as blessed.

The crux of the narrative is the second part which belongs to Gabriel, Elizabeth and Florence. Florence, is the first to rebel the household. Decided to leave the house and ailing mother in custody of Gabriel, she moves to New York. While her life hasn't been all that great, she maintains her contact with the family. Gabriel, after the death of the mother was living with Deborah, elder to him, who in her younger ages was raped by a group of white men, was his emotional and moral support, through the troubled years. After the death of his wife he moves to New York, and marry Elizabeth, who already have a son from Richard. Richard, a nice young man was accused falsely, commits suicide on his return from the Police. As their life is , the relationship is also as fragile, as you see in the first part. Gabriel, always angry make his family suffers from his moods. John, who carry a perpetual hatred for his step-father. Gabriel's own son in Elizabeth, Roy, constantly gets to fistfights at the neighbourhood and comeback with stab injuries. Gabriel himself had a son in one of the young lady, where he used to work. But his own prejudice and the circumstances, prevent him to accept them into his life, sending the pregnant lady away to the north and to eventual death.

The final pages, rich and complex in narrative is on John going through his trance. Baldwin uses some fantastic writing here as John experiences divine vision and prophetic words, and seeking the help of this friends and dears, he comes out successfully. However, as the mass ended, and the tears dried from reconciliation with the God, they return back to their lives, to their fragile relationships, to the world of irony and poverty.

There is a constant undercurrent of 'rage'. This rage is so into their daily system, that it comes out against their own folks, on themselves. Some of the folks turns anti social element, while the rest take refuge in the Jesus. The spurting of churches and masses through out the black community is an effort to direct this towards prayers. However, there is no escape. The constant struggle between the temptation and redemption is route in their culture. Every individual fights this battle. The self doubt on sinning, the inability to fight the temptation ( both sexual and social ) , the rage within, and the redemption , all goes hand in hand. On this day of salvation, every one has to goes through the torments of their sins. Everyone of them have to re-live their life in front of the altar. 

James Baldwin writes a profound story. Very powerful and hard. Without being vocal and rough and violent, he is able to get the portray the anger very effectively. The language is beautiful, the style and structure is not of a novice. There are many references to the ancient text and situations, and my limited understanding of those, might have hampered by reading to a certain extent.


Go Tell in on the Mountain ( 1953 )

James Baldwin

Penguin Modern Classics

256 Pages


Read More : Shigekuni , Wiki

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