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Literature / Giovanni's Room

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Giovanni's Room is a 1956 novel by James Baldwin. Set in Paris, France, the story is about American expatriate David, and his affair with Italian barman, Giovanni.


This work contians examples of:

  • Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: How David got involved with Giovanni, when Hella left for Spain.
  • The Alcoholic: David's father, and, eventually, David himself.
  • Ambiguously Bi: Because of the novel's surprising aversion of the No Bisexuals trope (see below), it's ultimately left ambiguous whether David and Giovanni are bisexual or gay, with enough evidence for either interpretation of both characters:
    • David seems to have experienced genuine attraction towards both men and women, though the male examples are given more focus in the book for obvious reasons, making it seem as though his primary attraction is towards men even as he argues he's only drawn to men occasionally. Whether his attraction to Hella and the other women he's been involved with is genuine or the result of compulsory heterosexuality is left to the reader's interpretation. The one time we see him with a female lover he doesn't have a very good time, but then he definitely pursues her for the wrong reasons.
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    • Giovanni has apparently only been involved with men since moving to Paris, but had mistresses and even a long-term girlfriend/wife back in Italy. He apparently genuinely loved the latter, though potentially more as the mother of his child than as a lover, and David accuses him of exclusively sleeping with men due to the trauma of his child being stillborn. However, it's also made clear that Giovanni thinks very little of women and is actually proud to have been violent towards his female lovers, and it's unclear if some of his anger towards them stems from past attempts at repressing his sexuality. Another possible interpretation is that he's bisexual but primarily homoromantic (and probably just a misogynist either way).
  • Bury Your Gays: At the beginning of the novel, it is revealed that Giovanni is on death row to be guillotined. At the end, we find out that his crime is killing another gay man, Guillaume.
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  • Cast Full of Gay: I mean, that's the whole point of the story.
  • Death by Origin Story: David's mother.
  • Depraved Bisexual: David sees himself as that.
  • Dirty Old Man: Jacques and Guillaume always eye up young boys.
  • Dysfunctional Family: Ella and the father were this to David, living forever in his dead mother's shadow.
  • Fan Disservice: the sex scene between David and Sue is awful. Surprisingly, Sue enjoyed it!
  • Foreshadowing: Giovanni mentions that a big fight with Guillaume is soon to come, and then it does, and it sucks.
  • Gayngst: Basically this whole novel is about how much David hates his homosexual inclinations.
  • The Ghost: Hella, for most of the story. She only appears in the final third.
  • Gratuitous French: The book breaks into this frequently.
  • He-Man Woman Hater: Giovanni despises women, even though he likes fucking them.
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  • Heroic BSoD: Giovanni breaks down after Guillaume threw him out in the middle of the book.
  • I Am Not My Father: David grows up trying to avoid turning out like his dad, but ends up exactly the same. See The Alcoholic.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Jacques and David.
  • Love Dodecahedron: Jacques likes David and Giovanni, Giovanni and Hella like David, and David doesn't want to admit to himself he likes Giovanni because he's too caught up in what he thinks is proper. He ends up losing both.
  • Mess of Woe: This is what David notes on Giovanni's room. It's supposed to symbolize how messed up his life is and why Giovanni is so intent on keeping David in his life, because he has no one else to hold on to.
  • Parental Neglect
  • No Bisexuals: Averted, surprisingly.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: On David's final day in Giovanni's room, Giovanni is so utterly devastated by David walking out of his life and he gives him a shattering one.
  • Unreliable Narrator: David claims that he's always into women and only occasionally finds himself infatuated with men, but the focus of the novel certainly makes it seem as though he's mainly interested in men. He also seems to have a lot of gay men as friends for a guy who's not interested in that scene most of the time.
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