Once again, the topic of home has come up in class, this time in one of our conversations on Giovanni’s Room. We spent a good amount of time discussing the character David’s motivations, most of which are tied up in his notions of masculinity and the American ideal.
For class, we were asked to analyze a quotation of our choice and explain how our interpretation of it affect our reading of the novel.
He made me think of home—perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition. (p. 92)
I had a difficult time picking this quotation. From what I have read of Baldwin—admittedly not a large sample—it seems as though a characteristic of his style is the use of unusual, contemplative phrases to solidify an abstract concept or fleeting impression into words. This was my favorite part of reading him, but these concrete abstractions occurred so often that I couldn’t think of one in particular that I liked best. So I flipped the book open to a random page and found myself staring at this sentence, in which David describes a young sailor he encounters on the street. It seemed relevant; we had been studying with Paul Heilker, among other things, the meaning of home.
I understand the feeling of the sentence and identify strongly with it. The literal meaning, however, is more elusive to me. The word that stands out is irrevocable. Irrevocable how? To whom? My immediate response was to think of my own irrevocable home: the memories I can carry with me anywhere. Does this mean that David’s idea of home is founded on certain memories of childhood—the patterns of his aunt’s dresses, the smell of his father’s cologne—which, through the distance of time, have been made untouchable and steady? Because of what we know about David’s childhood, it seems unlikely. Then perhaps, because of the use of the word condition, which I take to mean a state of being, we can say that David’s idea of home is just that: an idea. Maybe his home is any irrevocable condition, an irrefutable truth to which he can attach himself, some constant point in his otherwise transient and uncertain life. From the context of the sentence, then, David’s irrevocable conditions are youth and vivacity and beauty. Perhaps this is why, when treated contemptuously by the young sailor, David feels so frightened and ashamed: he is being rejected by everything he considered of value—being, in essence, evicted from his home.