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

Symbolism

James Baldwin’s Go Tell it on the Mountain is replete with symbolism. The novel echoes with biblical allusions and religious symbols. The very title of the book has symbolic implications. Taken from a Negro spiritual, Go Tell it on the Mountain in the folk hymn refers to the call given to people about the birth of Christ and also about the message of Moses to Pharaoh. Thus, "Go tell it" is a cry of all faithful Christians and "on the Mountain" is ‘Mount Sinai’ or ‘Mount Zion’ that Moses and John climbed on to speak to the Jewish exiles. The children of Israel or the suffering Christians were given the good news about the birth of their saviour from the top of a mountain. In general and in the novel in particular, "Go Tell it on the Mountain" refers to the announcement of good news or the shout of victory.

John Grimes, after experiencing crisis in his life, achieves salvation. It is the proclamation of his success that "Go Tell it on the Mountain" refers to. The allusion continues. Jesus is born not to live peacefully but to undergo suffering on the cross in order to save his people. Similarly, god has blessed John but John has to experience hardships before fulfilling his mission. Initially, John is not sure whether he can handle his success, but he gains confidence after hearing the words of Elisha spoken just before he takes leave of John: "Run on, little brother, Don’t you get weary. God won’t forget you. You won’t forget." These lines echo prophet Isaiah’s word of assurance to the captives: "They that wait --- shall walk and not faint." Elisha is the prophet encouraging John to work with full faith in god.

Each part has a title and an epigraph and each of the prayers in Part Two begins with a quotation or a hymn. The title of Part one, "Seventh Day" refers to the seventh day of creation. John’s birthday falls on a Saturday, the seventh day of the week and on this day he evolves out of the creative process; from birth till his dependence on his parents. It is also the day of the Sabbath when accounts for his activities to god. John lays bare his sinful activities before the Lord and waits for his command.

The two epigraphs following the title allude to the conflict raging within John as he enters his fourteenth year. The epigraph just following the title

And the Spirit and the bride say, Come.

And let him that hearth say, Come.

And let him that is athirst come.

And whosoever will, let him take

The water of life freely.


These lines echo the plea of his father and his people asking him to become a preacher when he grew up. John has been hearing such words often and had started believing that he would spread the word of god some day. The epigraph at the starting of the part reveals John’s dilemma.

I looked down the line,

And I wondered.

On his fourteenth birthday, John remembers the past and the expectations of the elders from him and wonders whether he should follow their advice or act according to his wishes.

The title of Part Two "The Prayer of Saints" begins with a hymn that voices the anguish experienced by the characters that offer their prayers in this part.

And they cried with a loud voice, saying,

How long, O Lord, holy and true,

Dost thou not judge and avenge our blood

On them that dwell on the earth?

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