Baldwin’s novel masterfully describes the utter helplessness man feels when he cannot begin to face his self-identity and the ultimate loneliness that results from this failure. David’s helplessness and resulting loneliness are only exacerbated by the realization that he can’t possibly help Giovanni, the person who most needs his help, someone just as lost and lonely as he is. This novel serves as David’s personal confession, chronicling his attempt to atone for past failures through a self-inflicted penance.
For a man so confined and closed up when in the company of others, David’s story is remarkably candid and frank. He pores out his soul here, detailing his fall from a state of grace, his loss of innocence—not so much for his failure to come to terms with his self-identity, but how this failure has affected and corrupted the lives of others. Giovanni’s room becomes a symbol for this—an outward manifestation of the effects of David’s corrupted soul. David’s story is honestly told; and the truth expressed is hauntingly poignant.
It is rare for an author to express such a deep reflection of conflicting emotions in a way that feels true to life. Stefan Zweig does this well, as does Henry James and Thomas Hardy. With this novel, I can easily place James Baldwin on the same list.