Although James Baldwin’s classic work, ‘Go Tell it on the Mountain,’ focuses mainly on sin and its consequences, it also presents the notion of feminism by eliciting sympathy for female characters and by demonizing male characters. Baldwin’s novel tells the story of John Grimes, a fourteen year old boy struggling against his thoughts on the church and his father, Gabriel, while also delving into the pasts of John’s family members. Female characters within the novel include Elizabeth, John’s mother, Florence, the sister of Gabriel Grimes, Deborah, Gabriel’s first wife, and Ester, Gabriel’s mistress.
Within the novel, there appears to be a theme of disappointment in relation to male characters. For example, Frank, the husband of Florence, is a drunkard who cannot hold down a job, buys her expensive gifts despite their issues with poverty, and eventually abandons her before getting killed in action during World War II. Baldwin discloses in relation to Florence’s difficulties with Frank, “All women had been cursed from the cradle; all, in one fashion or another, being given the same cruel destiny, born to suffer the weight of men” (70). Statements as such reveal that Baldwin commiserates with the women in his text, thus creating the subtle concept of feminism within the work. Baldwin takes Florence’s situation and makes it universal; phrases such as, “suffer the weight of men,” turns the discontent created by the male gender into a collective problem all women are doomed to deal with.
This concept of women bearing the stress of men is also evident with Deborah and Ester. Deborah, a rape victim who is unable to carry a child, is aware that Gabriel is having an affair with Ester and she tolerates it; it is not until Deborah is on her deathbed that she actually confronts her husband about his sin, leaving a mark of guilt on him. This sense of men being a burden is also clear when Gabriel impregnates Ester; when Ester reveals her pregnancy to Gabriel, Baldwin unveils, “He watched her with a hatred that was mixed with his old desire, knowing that once more she had the victory” (112). Claims as such expose that because men are so disenchanting, women have the upper hand due to the shame shaped from the troubles that men produce. Despite this, however, women still end up enduring the irresponsibility of men and this is apparent when Ester passes away during childbirth.
Elizabeth also must handle the unreliability of men in a way unique from the other female characters. By way of her first love Richard, Elizabeth becomes pregnant, however; Richard is falsely accused of a crime, is imprisoned for it, and later commits suicide because of how unjustly he was treated. Baldwin writes, “How long she had bled, and sweated, and cried, no language on earth could tell how long she had crawled through darkness, she would never know,” and “God had changed her life, had lifted her up and set her on the solid rock, alone” (160). By making such statements in regards to Elizabeth’s struggles with single parenthood, the author identifies with her, uncovering her strength while at the same time further pushing how her afflictions were thrusted upon her by means of a male.
‘Go Tell it on the Mountain’ most obviously concentrates on religion and the heaviness of it, yet, beneath Baldwin’s prose there is the impression that men cause distress and women must deal with this, thus they are stronger than men. Underneath it all, it is possible that Baldwin is trying to convey that it’s a man’s world and women are forced to survive in it.