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Go Tell It on the Mountain | Study Guide

James Baldwin

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Go Tell It on the Mountain | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


What kind of friendship develops between Florence and Deborah in Go Tell It on the Mountain Part 2, The Prayers of the Saints (Florence's Prayer)?

Florence hates her brother for limiting her education and opportunities to move on to a better life, and for her mother's insistence that Florence's role is to indulge Gabriel as her preparation for the servitude of marriage. Deborah hates white men because they raped her and soiled her in the eyes of her community, and she hates the black men in her community for looking on her as an object of lust because of that rape. Even though Deborah is three years older than Florence, the two women bond over their mutual hatred of men and their feelings that, as women, their only function in the world is to gratify those men. Their friendship evolves over the years into something deeper. After Florence leaves town, Deborah helps Gabriel care for Rachel in her dying days. Eventually Deborah marries Gabriel, making her bond with Florence truly familial. They write to each other, and Gabriel's treatment of his first wife and his infidelity serve to fuel Florence's protective feelings toward Deborah (and later Elizabeth) and her resentment toward her brother in years to come.

Why doesn't Rachel do more to stop Florence from leaving town in Go Tell It on the Mountain Part 2, The Prayers of the Saints (Florence's Prayer)?

Rachel is on her deathbed when Florence announces her intention to leave town. Florence's bags are packed, and she has no intention of stopping. Rachel weeps when she hears this news and accuses Florence of being evil and hard-hearted for leaving her mother in this state. Yet she does nothing more to attempt to stop Florence. As Florence attempts to argue her case, she realizes that her mother is no longer listening, and has "granted Florence the victory." Rachel prays for Florence's soul after this, but she does not try to talk Florence out of leaving as Gabriel does. It is possible that Rachel understands Florence's need to leave town on a deeper level, having herself left the plantation behind many years ago. It is also possible that Rachel's reaction is simply the act of an older mother too tired to argue with her daughter, who is the least valued of her two children anyway.

Why does Florence decide to leave town in Go Tell It on the Mountain Part 2, The Prayers of the Saints (Florence's Prayer)?

The moment that prompts Florence to leave town happens while she is at work. Florence works as a cook and housekeeper for a white family in town, and the man of the house propositions Florence to become his "concubine." The word choice of concubine instead of mistress is important. Concubine implies sexual servitude whereas mistress implies a relationship based on more equal footing and consent. Florence refuses and knows she can no longer work for the family because this proposition will not go away and may eventually lead to the man using force to have his way with her. She is 26 years old at this point and knows her prospects in the town are limited. She also has seen how her community treated Deborah after her rape and can expect little better for herself if she gives in to this white man's desires or reveals what has happened. Her community and family are likely to blame Florence for the man's proposition. Furthermore Rachel has endured slavery, which would make Florence's complaint appear small by comparison.

How does Florence's prayer affect John in Go Tell It on the Mountain Part 2, The Prayers of the Saints (Florence's Prayer)?

In the midst of Florence's recollections about her younger years, the scene returns to focus on John and Florence in the church service. The service is filled with song and shouting, and John is feeling the first stirrings of the conversion experience to come for him, described as "a deep, deep turning, as of something huge, black, shapeless." John looks to his Aunt Florence and wonders if she is asleep because she is so still and silent. He is curious about what is happening to her because he has never seen her in church before and her silence so sharply contrasts with the jubilance of the rest of the service. He wonders if his aunt is weeping. His aunt's silence and despair lead him to question why they come to church at all, but he sees one of the saints looking at him and decides his thinking is foolish.

What does Go Tell It on the Mountain Part 2, The Prayers of the Saints (Florence's Prayer) reveal about race through Florence's routine cosmetic use of skin whiteners?

While Florence is talking to Frank about Deborah's letter speculating on Gabriel's infidelity, Frank tells her to stop wasting money on skin whiteners, which she appears to be applying while they talk. She replies, "I know you don't want a coal-black woman." It's a subtle moment that speaks to the standards of beauty and race supported by other moments in the narrative. Later Elizabeth will worry that her skin is too dark, and the darkness of Deborah's skin gets a passing mention in relation to her looks as well. This moment, however, illustrates not only the desirability—or perceived desirability—of lighter-skinned women in the black community but also the lengths women will go to achieve this standard, which comes from the dominant influence of white culture. Florence's main complaint about Frank is that he wastes money, so if he believes the skin-lightening creams are a waste of money they must be costly. If Frank spends money on useless items and complains of the lightening cream, they must be useless as well, and Frank does say his wife remains as dark-skinned as the day she was born. Not only has white culture created an impossible standard for beauty among black women, but that same culture is willing to sell those women useless products to help them try to attain that standard.

What role does sex play in Florence's marriage to Frank in Go Tell It on the Mountain Part 2, The Prayers of the Saints (Florence's Prayer)?

Florence's complaints about Frank are far reaching. He drinks too much, wastes money, and has no ambition to better himself. Her problems with Frank are large enough to make her wonder why she married him at all, but she has faith in his potential. It takes her years to understand that he will not "come along," or will not change. The cycle of their fights always ends the same way, with him seducing her with kisses and caresses, then joining her in bed and coercing her into sex, which she initially resists weakly but also seems to enjoy. Even when Frank leaves her for the last time, Florence has the initial thought the night will end this way when she thinks he will come home drunk later. Florence may believe her hope of changing Frank is why she stays, but it becomes clear her physical attraction to him keeps her in this marriage.

Why does Deborah only call Gabriel "Reverend" in Go Tell It on the Mountain Part 2, The Prayers of the Saints (Gabriel's Prayer)?

After Deborah was raped by a group of white men at the age of 16, she becomes a kind of social pariah. The community blames her for what happened to her and shames her for it, regarding her as a harlot at first. Deborah turns the community's scorn into something else, though, with her quiet devotion to God and her church. The people around her may make jokes based on their own discomfort, but Deborah has turned her tragedy into something more complex and holy, even as she never expects any man to be willing to have her. She calls Gabriel "Reverend" despite their close friendship as an illustration of her own holy devotion and as an illustration of her respect for his holy devotion. The term also allows her to keep him at a distance, as she does all men, and to keep her feelings for Gabriel at a distance from herself.

In Go Tell It on the Mountain Part 2, The Prayers of the Saints (Gabriel's Prayer), why is the revival meeting important for Gabriel's career as a minister?

Early in his career as a minister in the South, Gabriel is invited to preach at what is described as a "monster revival meeting." The meeting lasts 24 nights and features a different elder, or minister, each night. The state where Gabriel lives is never specified, but the speakers come from "as far south as Florida and as far north as Chicago," so they travel a great distance to be part of this large event in summer. Gabriel is asked to deliver a sermon on the 12th night of the meeting, and he knows speaking in front of such a large audience and among such influential colleagues is a tremendous opportunity for him to build his reputation. He is determined to make a great impression. Because the audience is large and the connections are important, a strong performance at this meeting could launch his preaching to a new level, but a weak performance could end his ministry before it truly gets started.

What does Gabriel's sermon in Go Tell It on the Mountain Part 2, The Prayers of the Saints (Gabriel's Prayer) reveal about his vision of Christianity?

Gabriel draws his sermon at the revival meeting from the book of Isaiah, Chapter 6, Verse 5, which reads as follows: Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips. Gabriel preaches that this cry of woe, this recognition of uncleanliness, must follow each of them every hour of every day. To forget this lament is to lose sight of God. Gabriel's sermon goes on to caution against sin and death and the perils of temptation. For him being a Christian means recognizing that sin is everywhere and evil is in everyone. He takes a dim view of humanity and believes that only constant awareness of sin and of one's own woeful state as a sinner can bring a soul to salvation. Gabriel is unable to recognize John's salvation at the end of the novel, though, and he is unable to understand the evil inherent in his own lack of understanding or empathy toward Elizabeth.

How do Gabriel's dreams convince him to marry Deborah in Go Tell It on the Mountain Part 2, The Prayers of the Saints (Gabriel's Prayer)?

Gabriel has two dreams the night before he asks Deborah to marry him. The first is of a deeply sexual scene with the women he remembers from his past, groping at him, tempting him to sin again. He prays for salvation from this dream, but when he wakes he finds he has ejaculated in his sleep. This reality makes him feel the sin of the dream more keenly, and it reflects his early memory of the words of the apostle Paul, "It is better to marry than to burn." He believes that by marrying Deborah he will have a suitable outlet for his sexual urges and be better able to resist the temptations of his old life. His second dream is of himself climbing a mountain with great difficulty, urged forward and higher by a voice that may be God's. When he reaches the top of the mountain, the voice assures him that his children will be blessed by God. Having this assurance, Gabriel decides he must have children to receive these blessings, so he must marry and conceive them in the church-sanctioned way.

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