Go Tell it on the Mountain is a fictionalized memoir depicting James Baldwin's coming-of-age in the segregated Black community of Harlem, NYC. Baldwin's childhood is marked by a timid, alienating and confused relationship with his stepfather. His father is a autocratic and abusive. He constantly berates his wife (Baldwins' mother), He yells at his children and physically beats them as punishment for minor offenses such as getting into fights at school. James lives in perpetual fear of his father; always knowing the next moment of rage could result in the death of his mother, one of his siblings, or himself.
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John Baldwin has difficulty interacting with his children other than as a disciplinarian. On birthdays and other holidays, he tries to celebrate with his wife and children. Yet inevitably, these supposedly festive moments are ruined by his anger, rage, and violence.
James finds some refuge in church. Though his father remains strict and punitive even in the pulpit, the young James delights in friendship and play. He develops a particularly deep bond with Elisha, a young boy about three years' his senior. At 15, Elisha seems worldly and sophisticated.Elisha starts dating a young church girl, and the three hang out nearly every day.
John discovers that Elisha has been holding hands with and maybe even kissing his young girlfriend. He bans the couple from the church and forbids James from seeing them again. James' parents start pressuring him to preach, like his father.James starts to preach at local churches. He attends private functions for preachers only and observes much hypocrisy. He feels betrayed and disappointed by his father and the church leadership in general.
Baldwin mourns the loss of his friendship with Elisha. He becomes withdrawn from church life. When his father beats James' eldest brother, Hames retaliates against him: physically blocking the man while accusing him of hatred and malice. After the altercation, James' father physically abuses children less often, though his relationship with them remains cold and uncomfortable.
James' aunt is the only one who seems to understand his father. She visits frequently, with treats and kind words for James and his siblings. As James struggles with his religious identity, his aunt's health rapidly declines. When she dies, James is left with a sense of being truly alone in the world.
Shortly after his 14th birthday, James decides to answer a Sunday alter call, committing to live by the values espoused by his church community. Even as he publicly proclaims his commitment to these values, James remains deeply ambivalent about his inner spiritual life, his social and familial relationships, and his place in his community and the world.
Best part of story, including ending:
The story is quite tragic; the mood, melancholy. Yet there's a hopeful quality to the story as well. The reader feels the persistence of Baldwin's keen, youthful optimism. That optimism permeates what would otherwise be perhaps a depressing tale.
Best scene in story:
When John Baldwin (James Baldwin's father) physically attacks several family members, James courageously confronts him. He literally places his body between that of his raging father and defenseless brother. James isn't made suddenly courageous by the adrenaline of the moment. To the contrary, he's terrified of what his father will do to him for daring to interfere. Despite the fear, James takes the courageous step of defending those he loves. The scene depicts Baldwin's growing sense of integrity and justice in a emotionally compelling way.
Opinion about the main character:
Baldwin is a vibrant narrator, managing to express both the confusion of youth and the wisdom of old age. It's fascinating to get a look inside James Baldwin's head as he tried to make sense of his his coming of age. The resulting narrative is both intellectually engaging and emotionally resonant.