Go Tell It On The Mountain
James Baldwin
1953

James Baldwin’s coming of age story based on his own life is a cornerstone of modern American fiction – a story of race, family and the complex role of religion in society. Drawing heavily from the rythym and language of biblical text, Go Tell It On The Mountain follows the story of John on his fourteenth birthday, and his confrontation with three different parts of his personal and family story – his relationship with his father, the coming of his adulthood, and his religious faith.

Though centred upon John and his relationship to his preacher father, Gabriel, the novel employs distinct sections, or prayers – poetic reflections – each in the voice of a different character to spin a complex story of family history, faith and temptation, sin and redemption. Florence – neglected daughter of a freed slave,  resentful sister of Gabriel, abandoned by her husband, traces the link between the past and the present, the enduring  legacy of slavery; Gabriel reflects upon his religious conversion, his previous and lingering sins, secrecy and temptation, the continuity of his troubled relationships as son and father; Elizabeth, John’s mother, examines the place of family and the collapse of family, the psychological toll of racism and the possibility of a resistance that is more than just hatred. And then, back to John, to the church and the visions, angels and demons that visit him there, to the reckoning of family history, of fathers and sons, of historical burdens passed generation to generation.

Novelist, essayist, playwright, poet – James Baldwin is a towering figure in twentieth century American literature, and his ability to explore themes of race and sexuality through intensely personal stories continues to influence writers today. Go Tell It On The Mountain is perhaps not his greatest book; it is, though, a hugely influential work, and one that established Baldwin as one of the century’s most important and enduring literary voices.

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