Darren Spirk '15, Gettysburg College

Document Type

Student Research Paper

Date of Creation

Spring 2015




This paper argues that John Grimes, the protagonist of James Baldwin's Go Tell It on the Mountain, represents the struggle inherent in the path towards salvation and holds the potential ability to break down the binaries that create this struggle. Of particular interest is a similarity in the narrative framing of John’s story with Jesus Christ's, as told in the four Gospels. The significance of both their symbolic power is dependent on a multitude of narrative viewpoints, in John’s case the tragic pasts offered of his aunt, father and mother in the novel’s medial section. Their stories inform the identity crisis the black church creates for John in the first section yet ties him to this church for his ultimate conversion on the threshing floor at the novel’s close. Baldwin critiques the conversion experience as largely relational to the power structure of the black church, but he also highlights the cultural and historical necessity of converting through the unfortunate fates of those who refuse the experience. John’s ultimate significance as a Christ-like figure of salvation maintains an ambivalent relationship to the black church while offering love as an avenue for bridging the binaries facing him and serving greater collective purpose for the plight of the oppressed.


This paper was written for Professor McKinley Melton's senior seminar, ENG 403: Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Literature: The Bible & African American Literature, Spring 2015.