Searching for Identity Through the Past.

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        Christina Kimerle


English 1106

Searching for Identity Through the Past

In the novel Go Tell It on the Mountain, James Baldwin develops his main character, John Grimes, on the basis of other characters’ pasts. He reveals each character’s past to the reader, and how these pasts affect the main character John in his quest for identity. Gabriel Grimes and Elizabeth Grimes, his father and mother, have the largest impact on John Grimes and his search for his own identity.

        John Grimes, the son of Elizabeth, is celebrating his fourteenth birthday and beginning his search for his own identity. His mother has married Gabriel Grimes, who has promised to love John like his own son. John always seems to feel as though he is not good enough for Gabriel and never able to meet his approval. Roy, Gabriel’s true son, is more of a trouble-maker, but Gabriel favors Roy to John; he does not want John under the power of the Lord before his own son. Gabriel believes that Roy is the start of his royal blood-line.

        Gabriel, John’s step-father, has a concealed past which is a major factor in Gabriel’s resentment towards John. Being a preacher, Gabriel should be a good example of unconditional love, but as his past is revealed his attitude toward John becomes more understandable. Gabriel had turned to God and the church since his mother’s death. Before being part of the church, Gabriel was a wild-child. He was twenty-two when he went through his rebirth.

Gabriel married a woman, Deborah, who had been defiled, after a powerful dream from the Lord. After cheating once on Deborah with a woman named Esther, he continued this affair for nine days. The result of this affair was a son whom Esther named Royal just to spite Gabriel and his dream of a royal blood-line. Considering Esther was sent by Satan, Gabriel fell into temptation. Gabriel and Deborah stayed in contact with Royal, in Chicago, but it seemed that no one knew of Gabriel’s blood-ties. For her entire life, Gabriel kept the secret of his son Royal from Deborah. However, on her death-bed, Deborah told Gabriel she knew Royal was his son and that he had died in a knife fight.

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Having an illegitimate son should have given Gabriel the strength to accept John better than he did. Gabriel is clearly not as holy as he believes people perceive him to be. He looks down on Elizabeth because she has not repented for John’s birth, but Gabriel himself has never faced up to his own transgressions. By caring for Elizabeth and her bastard son, Gabriel feels that he has made amends with God. Gabriel has made Elizabeth and her son his charity to make-up for his past mistake.

Gabriel’s anger and frustrations for the royal blood-line are expressed harshly towards ...

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