Giovanni's Room | Study Guide

James Baldwin

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Giovanni's Room | Character Analysis



After his mother's death when he was five, David was raised by his father and aunt, neither one a particularly good role model. From them, David learned that he was expected to be overtly masculine like his father, who drank heavily and bedded many women. Because of this expectation, David has spent most of his life hiding who he really is: a man sexually attracted more to men than to women. Deeply ashamed of his sexuality, he admits it to no one, including himself. His relationship with Giovanni, therefore, is problematic because he cannot allow himself to be who he is.


Giovanni came to France to escape the tragic stillborn death of his infant son. Although he has had relationships with women, including his wife, he doesn't really like them as people. Unlike David, Giovanni doesn't worry about how others perceive his sexual orientation. He loves whomever he loves. And he is capable of deep feelings. Easily angered and often depressed, he is prone to frequent emotional outbursts, which contrast with David's outwardly placid demeanor.


David thinks of Jacques as a lonely, pathetic old "fairy" who will lend him money, but in reality Jacques is one of the best-adjusted characters in Giovanni's Room. He accepts himself as he is and makes no excuses for his sexual preferences. Although he can be petty and cruel, he has a softer side. He advises David to love and be loved by Giovanni. Later, he keeps David, who is in the South of France, informed about Giovanni's situation. Jacques's greatest regret in life is never having been the recipient of romantic love.


Originally from Minnesota, Hella Lincoln grew up in a conventional two-parent home. Although she comes across as a woman who values her independence—she came to Paris alone and spends months traveling alone in Spain—at heart she wants to follow convention and settle down with a reliable man and raise a family. She believes that a woman isn't her true self until she has someone else to care for.


Guillaume comes from an old and respected French family. Like his friend Jacques, he also likes young, good-looking men. Very attracted to Giovanni, Guillaume hired him as a bartender with the understanding they would not sleep together. However, his jealousy and vindictiveness surface when Giovanni and David become involved with each other, and Guillaume fires Giovanni. According to David, Guillaume later cons Giovanni into sex with him in exchange for getting his old job back. When Guillaume refuses to provide the job, Giovanni kills him.

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