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Free MonkeyNotes-Go Tell It On The Mountain by James Baldwin-Free Notes
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THEMES

Major Themes

The major themes of the novel ‘Search for Identity’ and ‘Quest for Love’ are linked to each other as the characters in the novel crave for love in their search for identity. Thus, they can be explained together. On his fourteenth birthday, John Grime faces a crisis of identity. He is not sure whether he wants to pursue the career chosen for him by his father. Like other boys of his age, he loves life and wants to enjoy the benefits of it. Thus, when his mother gives him money to spend on himself, he watches a movie with it, even though he knows his father would condemn his action. Later, he is angry with his father for slapping his mother and whipping his brother.

John loves his mother and Roy and is outraged by his father’s rash behaviour towards his loved ones. He had never loved his father and now he hates him. In this state of mind, he goes to the church to clean its premises and also offer his evening prayers. However, fate plays a joke on John. When he surrenders himself before god expecting punishment, he is pardoned and blessed by god. When god accepts John, the latter’s search for identity ends. John has been chosen to spread the message and love of god to his fellowmen. The love of god infuses in John the love for all including his father who dislikes him. Thus, John’s ‘Quest for Love’ and ‘Search for Identity’ ends with his salvation.

Other major characters like Gabriel, Florence and Elizabeth are also in quest for love and search for their identity. Gabriel turns to other women for love when he feels insecure with his mother's sickness and Florence’ reserve. However, his mother’s love and belief in him, lures him towards god and he decides to become a priest. After his mother’s death, Deborah helps him to establish his identity and gain confidence in himself. Deborah’s love and devotion attracts her to him and he marries her. He is at peace with himself but not for long. When he meets Esther, his sexual desire is stirred and he has an affair with the latter.

After he learns about Esther’s conceiving his child, he feels threatened. His identity is at stake. So, he sends Esther abroad and cuts off all relations with her. Gabriel betrays the love of both Esther and Deborah and refuses to accept Royal as his son. Only after he loses all three of them, does he realize his love for them. Finally, he marries Elizabeth because he needs a woman and a wife would provide him respectability and security. He loves Roy not John but when the former speaks against him, he feels insulted. Once again he experiences a crisis of identity. He turns to god but finds no relief because his ego comes in between god and him. Thus, Gabriel’s search for love and identity remain incomplete.

Florence and Elizabeth experience crisis in their identities, when they leave their homes in search of fresh pastures. Living in a strange city, they feel their identity threatened. They try to earn security through their partners in love but feel disappointed. Both Frank and Richard give Florence and Elizabeth love and not security. After their lovers leave them, they are left to lead a life of struggle and misery. They are successful neither in their quest for love, nor in their search for identity. Thus, they turn to god to fill their void.

Minor Themes

The minor themes of the novel are ‘Wages of sin’ and ‘Power of religion.’ The characters in the novel are made to commit sin either through force of circumstances or impulsiveness. Florence sins due to the force of circumstances, while Elizabeth slips due to her impulsiveness and Gabriel repeatedly sins because of both reasons. Whatever, the reasons be, all these characters are punished for their sins.


Florence leaves her sick mother only to fall into the arms of the irresponsible Frank and lead a life of regret. After Frank’s departure, she is deprived of love and protection. Also, she has to struggle for a living and cope with her falling health. In her desperation, she turns to god to seek his mercy and finds solace. Elizabeth runs away from her aunt to live with her lover. She imagines a life of bliss but experiences insecurity and fear. And after the demise of Richard, life becomes a nightmare. Marrying Gabriel gives her security but not peace of mind. Thus, she turns to god in the hope of finding happiness in the future. Her prayers are partly answered in the form of John’s salvation and she is satisfied. Both Florence and Elizabeth like John gain strength after surrendering to god.

Gabriel’s weak mind makes him indulge in vices repeatedly. Though he regrets for his actions, he causes harm to his loved ones through his weakness. Thus, he sins more than others and is also punished justly. He loses his mother and Deborah, his emotional anchors and Royal, his dear son because of his callousness. He lives to regret his actions. However, his arrogance and hypocrisy come in the way of his surrender to god and he is left with the burden of his guilt. Preaching the power of god, Gabriel is denied His mercy because his heart is unclean.

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