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Gabriel’s Inventiveness in Go Tell It on The Mountain

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Shame, blame, all the same.

Good Artists Breathe Reality Into Existence, Lies.

Shame, blame, all the same.

This is Gabriel’s creative process.

Gabriel’s creative process is one that dwells in shame, blame, and his inability to release the weight of his sins. In “The Creative Process”, Baldwin argues the importance of artists being vulnerable to themselves. For an artist to achieve this vulnerability, Baldwin explains that the artist must understand himself and the kind of person he wants to be, thus, the kind of impact he wants to make in the world. In Go Tell It On The Mountain, Baldwin’s character Gabriel is a preacher whose calling as a born-again Christian was sparked by a dream he had, where God promised him a son that would eternally dedicate his life to God. This dream controls the rest of Gabriel’s life, causing him to shame anyone who sins, but fails to hold himself accountable for the sins he has committed. Per Baldwin’s view on vulnerability, Gabriel’s character demonstrates what can happen to a person if they do not allow themselves to be vulnerable. Using the framework Baldwin provides in “The Creative Process,” a character analysis of Gabriel reveals that his destructive behavior is not rooted in his lack of understanding of himself, but because of his lack of self-acceptance.

Baldwin takes a closer look at artists as individuals in “The Creative Process” to create an understanding that artists find their purpose through seeking out aspects of life that others are unwilling to expose, and by doing this, artists make society a little bit more liveable. In “The Creative Process”, Baldwin discusses the personal process an artist must go through for their art to change the world. He says, “The role of the artist, then, precisely, is to illuminate that darkness, blaze roads through that vast forest; so that we will not, in all our doing, lose sight of its purpose, which is, after all, to make the world a more human dwelling place” (669). The “darkness” that Baldwin refers to is the depths of an individual that someone can only find in solitude, and because of this, is often an untapped piece of the individual’s soul. Artists must be exposers of things that lie in the dark, people, places, or ideas that are undiscovered because the non-artist is too afraid to uncover them. By doing this, they make more space for people to express their flaws and create a more fitting environment for “humans” than we have now. Gabriel, from Baldwin’s Go Tell It On The Mountain, is a preacher, which makes him, arguably, an artist; the purpose of preaching is based off of a written work, The Bible,–which can be viewed as a type of art– but preaching is also incredibly performative, which in itself is an art form. Gabriel is keen on shining a light on the sins of people around him, but instead of revealing sins to provide guidance on how to be better humans, thus fostering a community that would promote Baldwin’s definition of an artist’s role, Gabriel holds these sins against those who have committed them. Gabriel’s use and exploitation of women’s bodies proves this. Every woman in Gabriel’s life, including his two wives Deborah, then later Elizabeth, his mistress, Esther, and the hooker he sleeps with prior to his revelation to be a “holy” man, is taken advantage of and used by Gabriel for his personal gain, only to then be shamed by him after the fact. His need to control every woman in his life connects with his ignorance of his abusive and controlling behavior. In doing this, he actually make the world less “human dwelling”, because he isn’t allowing people to be human. Gabriel fails to ever hold himself to the same level of accountability as he does with everyone else, and in turn makes the world more liveable for him, but not for others.

Baldwin proposes that creating a more human world begins with coming to terms with an individual’s self; Gabriel’s character, though he does identify as a sinner, continues to damage himself and other. In “The Creative Process”, Baldwin says, “We do the things we do, and feel what we feel, essentially because we must– we are responsible for our actions, but we rarely understand them…if we understood ourselves better, we would damage ourselves less” (671). Baldwin’s description of humans doing and feeling things “because we must” implies that there is a lack of control that humans have when acting on something or expressing a feeling. Therefore, Gabriel, who demands control at all times, struggles to cope with his own feelings and actions and thus, damages himself. Understanding oneself “better” is relative, and it is unclear how much “better” Baldwin suggests one should understand himself to not damage himself. In Gabriel’s case, there are multiple times in the text that prove that he understands himself very well, but still damages himself and others for his/their “sins”. Following his affair with Esther, Gabriel becomes tormented by his failure to keep to his standard of following in the steps of the Lord. He describes that each church he enters, he feels the weight of his sins hanging over him. However, instead of taking the steps necessary to heal himself of these sins outside of the context of God– he knows he has a son out there and he feels a connection and innate desire to care for him, but knows that it isn’t Godly to do so because the child is a bastard– he turns to the congregation, and finds sinfulness and ungodliness in all of them. He does this to compensate for his sins; finding that his whole congregation has fallen makes him less guilty for what he has done. This does not mean he has a lack of understanding of himself, but it is an indication that he uses other people’s sins to justify and absolve his own as a way of coping with his overall lack of control that he feels within himself. As a result, Gabriel ends up in a cycle of damaging himself and others, by not allowing himself to be vulnerable with himself or with others.

Gabriel’s inability to be vulnerable with himself damages him because it prevents him from accepting himself. To cope with his sins, Gabriel prays to God for repentance, but he continues to sin more. He tends to pass off the sins he has committed as just him going off course from God, but the real reason why he does this is because he does not want to discover the root of his sins. Baldwin talks about self-acceptance of the artist as necessary and a way to cope with the forces that work against him in “The Creative Process” when he says, “All we can do is learn to live with them. And we cannot learn this unless we are willing to tell the truth about ourselves and the truth about us is always at variance with what we wish to be. The human effort is to bring these two realities into a relationship resembling reconciliation” (671). According to Baldwin, “Telling the truth about ourselves” is a way to “understand” ourselves. Gabriel’s root of his sins is his inability to accept himself and accept other people as they are. Gabriel’s habit of engaging with women who are not “saved”, and him trying to “save” them is what he thinks is his version of a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. He takes people on as projects to prove himself as a man of God, when in reality, he evades taking responsibility for his role in their sins. He is always trying to change people so that they can become who he wants them to be, but never takes a hard-enough look at himself to realize that he needs to change to truly be forgiven for his sins. Baldwin’s use of the word “reconciliation” is relevant in the context of Gabriel’s life, because as a preacher, his purpose is to be the provider of reconciliation for the congregation and their faith. Gabriel literally does not practice what he preaches when he refuses to accept people, and himself, for their mistakes. In this way, being a man of faith is the force that works against him. Instead of being an outlet for Gabriel and a place where he can feel accepted, his faith makes him feel patronized. Gabriel does not learn to live with this forces, because rather than working on becoming a better Christian, he becomes defensive and blames others for his actions. If Gabriel told the truth about himself, he would be able to accept himself because he would recognize his faults and take responsibility for them. Baldwin’s suggestion that a person’s truth reflects the person they want to be is interesting, because this means Gabriel may not know the truth about himself because he does not know the person who he wants to be. Furthermore, if Gabriel fears the truth about himself, then this may be an indication that he is also fearful of the person he wants to be. Though the torment Gabriel experiences because of his sins is an indication that he does understand himself because he recognizes his wrongdoings, he doesn’t allow this understanding to manifest into acceptance, because he spends so much of his time making sure other people are “saved”.

Gabriel often uses other people to lash out on when he feels the weight of guilt for sins he has committed, because his lack of acceptance for himself bleeds into his relationships, leading him to fail to accept others. This overall inability to accept and tolerate the people in his life is what causes Gabriel to damage them the most. He often uses their sins as way to shame them, not necessarily because he wants them to repent and be “saved”, but because by illuminating the faults of others, he feels absolved for his own sins. When thinking about Gabriel and his wife Elizabeth’s son, Roy, Gabriel deduces that Roy’s refusal to connect with God and the church stems from Elizabeth’s sin of having her first child, John, out of wedlock. Although, Gabriel also has a bastard child who, unlike Elizabeth, he did not have any part of in his short life. What is ironic, is that Gabriel did not even consider that it was his sins that caused Roy’s misbehavior and rebellion. He does this because, like how he does not accept himself for his sins, he does not accept Elizabeth for hers. Elizabeth feels no shame for having John out of wedlock, but Gabriel is not understanding of this, though he somehow is understanding of the sin he had committed, because he is convinced he has been forgiven for them by God because he married Elizabeth regardless of her bastard child. Gabriel sees himself as completely absolved of sin, but sees Elizabeth’s sin as what is preventing their son from wanting to follow in his footsteps to lead a life in the church. Gabriel’s inability to not let go of other people’s sins is why he is so damaging to the people in his life. He uses his relationships as ways for him to feel like he is in control of others. Gabriel is very often unable to control himself, and things that happen in his life, such as the death of his first son and the racism that he is surrounded with, so his sole comfort comes from his relationship with God, when he fails at this relationship by sinning on his own, that is when he attacks others.

Gabriel anchors his guilt and resentment toward himself in controlling other people, seemingly because he is bitter, but it is actually because these people are reminders of his sins. The people who he tries to control the most are the ones who have control over him, because they are the ones who have tempted him into sinning, such as many of the women in his life, or are results of his sins, such as his sons. Gabriel refuses to acknowledge that these people play a role of control in his life, because this would mean that he is a weak man. But, it is clear that Gabriel does not want to form any kind of relationship with these people that would involve him acting weak or vulnerable with them. At the end of the chapter, “Gabriel’s Prayer”, John and Gabriel exchange looks, while John is attempting to pray, and Gabriel is secretly hoping that John is not “saved”. Gabriel does not want John to be “saved” when his own son(s) are not, another example of his failure to accept others. In the scene, Gabriel sees that John is staring at him, and recognizes the look in his eyes and registers it as a look he’s seen before. It seems that the “other eyes” Gabriel is remembering are those that belong to people who have brought out the worst in Gabriel, those that have accused him of being a source of oppression and have bore the brunt of his guilt. This is why Gabriel blames everyone for his problems and fails to face his sins as his own, he simply points the finger right back at those who do it to him. In “The Creative Process,” Baldwin talks about the necessity of an artist being alone because it is a way for the individual to explore himself and to discover things about being human. Baldwin writes, “The aloneness of which I speak is much more like the aloneness of birth or death. It is like the fearful aloneness which one sees in the eyes of someone who is suffering, whom we cannot help” (669). Gabriel is never alone. He never allows himself to be alone, even when he is physically, he sees himself with God, and so he never experiences this kind of “fearful” aloneness that Baldwin says is needed to uncover the dark parts of ourselves. Contrarily, when Gabriel looks at the people who he blames for his sins, he feels alone. John says he sees “the bottom of Gabriel’s soul” in the moment where they are staring at each other, which proves that when people use these eyes on Gabriel, they catch him in a moment of vulnerability and it forces him to expose a weak part of himself to others. He can’t even look at this weak part of himself when he is alone, let alone around other people. Gabriel feels alone when he looks at these people because he knows they blame him for pushing his resentment and guilt onto them, or for not taking responsibility for his actions that have affected them. Again, Gabriel understands this but doesn’t want to accept it, which is why he continues to have the same problems come up repeatedly.

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Connecting Baldwin’s “The Creative Process” and his character Gabriel together to understand the depths of the “true” self help us understand that it takes courage to reach these depths. Being frightfully alone and shining the light in the darkness of his own darkness is what Gabriel could never do, but through his cowardice the people around him find strength. Roy rebels against his father, John gets “saved”, and the women in Gabriel’s life live unapologetically with their conditions and sins. It is through Gabriel’s failures that these people illuminate the darkness inside of them. Though Baldwin’s statement is profound in that it encourages self-analysis and coming clean to oneself to help him heal, Gabriel’s story shows that through other’s ignorance of themselves, one can find this same healing.

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