Go Tell It on the Mountain | Study Guide

James Baldwin

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Course Hero. "Go Tell It on the Mountain Study Guide." Course Hero. 12 Jan. 2017. Web. 25 Sep. 2023. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Go-Tell-It-on-the-Mountain/>.

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Course Hero. (2017, January 12). Go Tell It on the Mountain Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved September 25, 2023, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Go-Tell-It-on-the-Mountain/

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Course Hero. "Go Tell It on the Mountain Study Guide." January 12, 2017. Accessed September 25, 2023. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Go-Tell-It-on-the-Mountain/.


Course Hero, "Go Tell It on the Mountain Study Guide," January 12, 2017, accessed September 25, 2023, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Go-Tell-It-on-the-Mountain/.

Go Tell It on the Mountain | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


Why does Gabriel come to hate Deborah in Go Tell It on the Mountain Part 2, The Prayers of the Saints (Gabriel's Prayer)?

Gabriel marries Deborah hoping to make himself respectable and passing along his legacy and God's blessings to his children. Yet Deborah gives him no children in the first years of their marriage. When Esther comes on the scene, young and pretty, Gabriel is attracted to her, and the comparison between Esther's beauty and Deborah's plainness is difficult for him to bear. He becomes aware of what was true before he met Esther: he has no physical attraction to Deborah. He finds her skin too dark and her body too thin. His marriage bed is one of "joyless groaning." Even though Gabriel denies his attraction to Esther and attempts to suppress it, the comparison between the two women and his desire for someone else poisons his feelings for Deborah.

What is the meaning of the sermon Gabriel gives in Go Tell It on the Mountain Part 2, The Prayers of the Saints (Gabriel's Prayer)?

Gabriel gives a mighty sermon when Esther and her family come to visit the church. He recounts the story of a young man named Ahimaaz from the second book of Samuel. Ahimaaz runs to King David with tidings of a battle, but he actually has nothing to tell David because he has not seen the battle's outcome or any other details. The tale is meant to teach patience in waiting for God's guidance. It cautions against the arrogance of unbelief, which is the message he wants Esther to hear. He thinks she is too filled with pride to hear his words and change her ways, even as he closes the sermon practically begging "a soul here tonight" to come to the altar and be saved. He is not asking for just any soul but for Esther's. He believes that if he can save her soul he can end the temptation she represents for his own soul.

What does Esther see in Gabriel that he doesn't see in himself in Go Tell It on the Mountain Part 2, The Prayers of the Saints (Gabriel's Prayer)?

Gabriel has been saved and lives a holy life after he is converted to serving God and being a minister. He feels an attraction and desire for Esther, but as a married man he locks away those feelings and tries to focus on saving her soul instead. She recognizes his desire for her, though, as part of his nature as a human and a man. She tells him so, saying, "You looked at me just like a man, like a man what hadn't never heard of the Holy Ghost." The night they have sex in their employers' kitchen, she draws the truth out of him, saying he knows why he keeps bothering her about what she does and where she goes. Since he was saved, Gabriel has lived in denial of his human instincts and needs, but Esther sees that those instincts remain strong under Gabriel's holy surface. Later when the affair is over and she discovers she is pregnant, Esther again recognizes Gabriel's human cowardice in his denial of responsibility for the baby, even as he argues that he is working for the greater good of God's word.

What does Gabriel find most troubling about his affair with Esther in Go Tell It on the Mountain Part 2, The Prayers of the Saints (Gabriel's Prayer)?

Gabriel's fall to the temptation of Esther causes a deep crisis for him. He had lived by the word of God from the time of his conversion and truly believed he had left his old ways behind him. He tried very hard to resist Esther, even calling out to Jesus for help in the moments before he laid his hands on her in the kitchen. Because he has believed so strongly in his salvation and because he has denied his human urges in favor of his spirituality so successfully up to this point, his actions with Esther shake his faith in himself. He believes that if he can fall once he can fall to temptation again and again, and this frightens him. He becomes even more steadfast in his faith, which leads him to treat Esther harshly and send her away in shame when the evidence of their affair appears in the form of her pregnancy.

Why is Esther ashamed of her pregnancy in Go Tell It on the Mountain Part 2, The Prayers of the Saints (Gabriel's Prayer)?

Esther agrees to leave town if Gabriel will give her money to do so after she learns she is pregnant. She does not want her parents to know what has happened because she feels foolish about her actions, and she feels ashamed because of Gabriel, not because of the affair or the baby. Esther has lived a life of unabashed promiscuity and fun, and she has never felt bad about the things she has done. Gabriel's accusations that she might be lying about the baby's paternity and his shame about her make her feel foolish and ashamed for trusting him. She says he has made her feel as if she does not matter and is not good enough for him to even acknowledge knowing her. His hypocrisy makes her feel cheap, as she says, "I guess it takes a holy man to make a girl a real whore."

How does John feel about his stepfather as the service goes on in Go Tell It on the Mountain Part 2, The Prayers of the Saints (Gabriel's Prayer)?

During the service John watches his stepfather as Gabriel remembers his life in the South and the affair with Esther and its aftermath. John wonders why his stepfather is always frowning and unhappy, why their lives are so troubled if God is so great. He wonders if having God as his father will allow him to no longer feel like Gabriel's son and remove the feeling of being unloved by his earthly father because his Heavenly Father will love him. John's conflict returns because he wants to hate Gabriel, even as he believes that being saved will make him and Gabriel equals in the eyes of God and erase the conflict between the two of them. John feels guilt because his hateful thoughts of Gabriel are sinful and are what keep him from fully experiencing the love of God that would make Gabriel's rejection unimportant.

Why does Gabriel feel nervous when Deborah talks about Royal in Go Tell It on the Mountain Part 2, The Prayers of the Saints (Gabriel's Prayer)?

After Esther dies and her parents take Royal under their care, Deborah becomes close to the family. Gabriel carries crushing guilt about the affair and about Esther's death and the boy being, essentially, an orphan. He feels guilt about stealing money from Deborah's savings to send Esther away. Deborah's contact with the family and her conversations with him about Royal make that guilt more vivid for Gabriel. At the same time, Gabriel wants to keep his secrets and shame to himself. He does not want Deborah to find out what he has done and does not want the truth to become public, as it would ruin his reputation. Every time Deborah talks about Royal, Gabriel fears he might give something away or she might be about to expose his guilt, and he fears how she might react to the truth.

What is significant about the death of the soldier in Go Tell It on the Mountain Part 2, The Prayers of the Saints (Gabriel's Prayer)?

The last time Gabriel sees Royal, it is the night after a body has been discovered in the area. The man was a black soldier, found at the base of a tree with his nails digging into the ground, which suggests that he was dragged by his assailants while he was still alive. The body has been flogged, echoing the whippings so common during the time of slavery. When the body is turned over, the face is frozen in an expression of terror and the man's genitals have been wounded or removed, his trousers open and soaked with blood. The soldier has been lynched for some unknown offense against the white men in town; the nature of his wounds indicate the offense may have been sexual in nature or the white men may have simply wanted to emasculate this man and strike fear into others. They succeeded; Gabriel is nervous about being out at night and fears for Royal as well.

What kind of marriage do Gabriel and Deborah have in later years in Go Tell It on the Mountain Part 2, The Prayers of the Saints (Gabriel's Prayer)?

After the affair with Esther has ended and Gabriel returns home from his traveling ministry and dealing with his guilt, Gabriel and Deborah settle into a quiet routine. The hatred and disgust Gabriel felt toward Deborah seems to have dissipated after Esther is out of the picture, replaced with his shame at wronging Deborah by cheating on her and stealing from her. He takes care of Deborah when she becomes sick. Most revealing about the state of their marriage is the way Gabriel is finally able to open up to Deborah about Royal after he learns of Royal's death and her acceptance of his sadness, her attempts to comfort him, and her devotion to him even though she has known about Esther and Royal all along. Deborah knew Gabriel was attracted to Esther because she could tell how he looked at Esther differently from the way he looked at her. Yet Deborah is forgiving of all these things, reflecting the depth of her love for Gabriel. She does not excuse what Gabriel has done, quietly advising him to seek forgiveness—possibly for the rest of his life—until God lets Gabriel know he is forgiven.

What does Gabriel feel when he looks at John during the service in Go Tell It on the Mountain Part 2, The Prayers of the Saints (Gabriel's Prayer)?

When Gabriel looks at John during the service, he sees something in John's eyes that reminds him of all the negative experiences in his life: "John's staring eyes tonight reminded Gabriel of other eyes: of his mother's eyes when she beat him, of Florence's eyes when she mocked him, of Deborah's eyes when she prayed for him, of Esther's eyes and Royal's eyes, and Elizabeth's eyes tonight before Roy cursed him, and of Roy's eyes when Roy said: 'You black bastard.'" In the moment, Gabriel takes this look on John's face to be a sign of John's inborn evil and arrogance, the product of his mysterious parentage. The earlier scene in which John struggles with his hatred for Gabriel indicates that John is likely not looking on his stepfather with love, but Gabriel is also looking at John with recollections of his own wrongdoings fresh in his mind. As a result Gabriel projects the guilt, anger, and shame of his past—with his mother, Deborah, Esther, Elizabeth—onto John's face. He is not seeing John's rage so much as the rage of everyone he has hurt, yet Gabriel continues to deny his part in those hurts.

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