book beginnings on Friday: Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.

go tell it

I had a heck of a time getting this electronic audiobook from my local public library onto my iPod, but I have succeeded and thus well earned this listen. I started off with James Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son, which I enjoyed; but it made me want to go back to the beginning of his work, and Go Tell It On the Mountain is his most famous novel, so here we are. It begins:

Everyone had always said that John would be a preacher when he grew up, just like his father. It had been said so often that John, without ever thinking about it, had come to believe it himself.

I think these are strong starting lines. They tell us who our protagonist is; they tell us his family background, and they both name an expected fate for John, and imply that this expectation will not be fulfilled. It also bears noting that on the first page, there is also reference to John’s father fondling one of his daughters, implying that this preacher is not as virtuous as we’d expect. It’s a very casual mention, downplaying the import of this fact. To me, this says that the family doesn’t think much about it; or maybe they don’t know yet. At any rate, it’s disconcerting to have molestation treated so lightly, and I think Baldwin makes a real impact by introducing such disturbing information so off-handedly.

Please note that I have only just begun this book, so I don’t know yet if my interpretations here are correct! Stay tuned…

2 Responses

  1. I was taken aback by the word “fondle” as well–but I believe that Baldwin uses it to mean “caress lovingly” (this usage of that word was more common in the early 1950s than it is now).

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