James Baldwin’s book: Go Tell It On The Mountain is a masterful work.
Set in three sections, the narrative weaves the struggle of a family and its individual components through their church lives, and their salvation or resistance to their salvation.
What happens around them and throughout their experience as black people, whether in the south or in the north, elevates the characters’ deep existence in God’s world. Their religious belief and expression is their answer to enduring senseless violence and unwarranted hatred threaded throughout their lives.
The themes of sin and redemption, or striving for redemption, of rage, and of being saved – yet still a sinner – is felt in each page, in each individual’s journey.
As the novel opens with the eldest son, John, recalling his family’s church rituals and ‘the sinners’ the family passes on their way to Sunday services, the reader peeks at the family’s life in Harlem through John’s eyes. John expresses embarrassment by the demeanor and characters of the ‘sinners’ they pass as the family walks the four blocks to their storefront church, where their father is a deacon. John’s brother Roy expresses amusement at the ‘sinners’ behavior he witnesses as they walk past, and he expresses an attraction to that life.
Snatches of gospel song and verse propel the narrative forward through the several main characters’ thoughts and experiences, while the women elders and other sisters of the church, hover in the background, or come forward in prayer for the characters’ collective and individual souls throughout.
Instances of the family’s reality in a white world are shown through several scenes, but do not overpower the narrative of these characters’ lives. The reader experiences the world of the various characters and their choices, but are left to make of it what they will as they are propelled through the pages in a sometimes raw and dreadful torment.
The narrative compels the reader to bear witness – to understand the requirements of God to these characters – a forsaken people and their cries into the wilderness. The reader is kept rooted in each character’s living reality outside of the church, while unfurling a deep sense of these lives, and in the lives of their community through their spiritual connections and disconnections, and knowledge that their nearness to God is their only succor inside or outside of the human world.