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Free MonkeyNotes-Go Tell It On The Mountain by James Baldwin-Free Notes
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Literary/Historical Information

A number of years went into the writing of Go Tell it on the Mountain. Baldwin had been shaping the novel for eight years but could not give it the form he wanted. Thus, he was close to scrapping it. However, he did not do so. An incident happened that gave him an impetus to rewrite the novel. His friend, Lucien owned a small chalet in Switzerland and got permission from his father to live in it during the winter months. Baldwin accompanied his friend to the beautiful mountain village and got inspired to reset his novel. Thus, the novel took shape in 1952 and Baldwin posted it to his agents for approval.

In the beginning, Baldwin had typed the title of the novel as Crying Holy following the religious spirit of the novel. However, after going on a mountain expedition in the heavenly Switzerland and observing the ethereal carpet of snow from the top made him remember the gospel song ‘Go tell it on the Mountain.’ This line of the song seemed more telling and Baldwin kept it as the title of his novel. In May 1953, he got the book published. The novel was a success and won Baldwin critical acclaim.


Go Tell it on the Mountain is an autobiographical novel. The book reflects the life of Baldwin till his adolescence. It reveals the psyche of the fourteen year old Baldwin who had been pressurized by his stepfather from childhood. The protagonist, John, like James chooses to become a minister of the church at a young age, even though he had been averse to follow the profession of his father. In February 1953, when Baldwin was asked about the autobiographical intent of his book, he had denied it. He had said, "I had been carrying (it) about with me since the day of my father’s funeral. My father’s funeral does not appear in the novel-had nothing whatever to do with it-and by this time my father had nothing to do with it, either. There’s great misapprehension abroad to the effect that writers take people out of life and put them into books, but nothing could be further from the truth...If I had never known my father, if I had never lived in Harlem-I would never have written the book. That’s obvious. But the novelist is not a portrait painter, he deals in distortions."

Thirty-two years later, Baldwin had to concede that the novel was autobiographical in intent. He said, "I suppose that Mountain can be considered a kind of love song-a confession of love-for that David Baldwin it took me so many years to understand ... Mountain comes out of the tension between a particular father and a particular son. No matter that he was not my biological father." Go Tell it on the Mountain is a fictional reproduction of James Baldwin’s early life. The novel, thus, rings true with the emotions of a teenager standing at the crossroads of his life. Only because Baldwin could feel the pangs of the protagonist, he could make the novel intense and interesting.

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