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The Threshing Floor
James Baldwin beautifully relates the process of redemption experienced by the common man weighed down by his sins. John surrenders himself to god but feels guilty of his past actions. His falling down on the Threshing floor and experiencing the agony of self-doubt is symbolic. The common man is so weighed down by his sins that he finds it difficult to shed his burden and look up with confidence. However, if a man has total faith in god and sincerely desires his mercy, the Lord saves him. John keeps remembering the words "Jesus saves" even as he is enveloped in darkness of guilt. These words of grace give him strength to get up and face the Lord. Thus, John observes light in the darkness and lifts himself up with confidence. Elisha acts as the agent of god to enlighten John. John transforms himself into a new self. He feels enriched by the awakening of god and decides to follow His path.
John can be compared to a simple mortal tempted by both the good and the bad. Elisha is like an angel encouraging him to rise up, while Gabriel appears as the devil who threatens to overpower John with his sins. Thus, John visualizes Elisha as a glowing presence, while he thinks of Gabriel as a dark and frightening creature. Elisha reminds him of godly hope and benevolence, while Gabriel threatens him of punishment and damnation. John longs to run away from Gabriel to the welcoming arms of Elisha. Elisha always gives him a reassuring smile, while Gabriel gives him a stony stare. John experiences anguish while trying to extricate from the clutches of the devil to reach up to the home of the angels. His faith in god finally helps him to reach out to Him and enter the world of hope and peace. Elisha welcomes him into this fold, but Gabriel alerts him of the hardships ahead. John gains the moral strength from Elisha to overcome worldly temptations and threats and walks ahead of his father with a smile, even though Gabriel looks at him with a frown. John overcomes his fears and feels determined to tackle his mission.
This section of the novel brings into focus the conflict existing between Gabriel and John. Gabriel never really accepts John as his son and hence, fails to give him the love the boy deserves. He pretends to care for John to please the society. He is condescending in his attitude towards Elizabeth and John. Instead of providing love and understanding to them, he neglects them and takes them to task for little lapses. As a preacher, he talks about tolerance and generosity, but in practice he is intolerant towards his wife and looks at John with suspicion. Wearing the mask of godliness, he hides his guilt behind it. Gabriel is a devil in the apparel of god, while John is an angel who thinks he is possessed by the devil. After indulging in all kinds of vices, Gabriel fails to repent and improve but John feels ashamed of his mistakes and surrenders to god. In the end, it is John who is blessed by god and enlightened, while Gabriel is left to lead a life of regret and brood.
The five poetic lines below the title are significant.
Then said I, 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; for mine eyes have
Seen the king, the Lord of hosts.
John, guilty of his sins and aware of the sins of his father, loses hope of salvation. However, his inherent goodness, humility and faith in god, saves him from damnation. He is not only saved, but chosen to act as the agent of god.