Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin

April 22, 2013

got tell it on the mountainPlot summary (from the publisher): James Baldwin’s stunning first novel is now an American classic. With startling realism that brings Harlem and the black experience vividly to life, this is a work that touches the heart with emotion while it stimulates the mind with its narrative style, symbolism, and excoriating vision of racism in America. Moving through time from the rural South to the northern ghetto, starkly contrasting the attitudes of two generations of an embattled family, Go Tell It On The Mountain is an unsurpassed portrayal of human beings caught up in a dramatic struggle and of a society confronting inevitable change.

Warning: Spoilers below!


  • I could appreciate some of the themes Baldwin tried to address in this book, particularly the struggle with religion. Worldliness vs. godliness is a dilemma a lot of people wrestle with, so one of my favorite passages was the one that focused on John’s thoughts as he wandered through NYC on his way to the movies for his birthday.
  • Elizabeth’s backstory was the most interesting for me. I found her character to be the most intriguing, and wanted to know more about her.
  • I know I missed out on a lot of biblical allusions, but the ones I managed to catch really enriched the reading experience for me. I can only imagine what this book must have been like for someone more well-versed in religion than I am.


  • This book was a bit hard for me to follow–not because I’m dense or anything, but because the flashbacks melded together with current actions without clear enough delineation between the different time periods. It was sort of frustrating trying to figure out if something was happening in the past or right now.
  • The beginning was incredibly boring. It took me a very long time to get through John’s initial section because the author didn’t spend any time “setting the scene”. He just launched into a stream-of-consciousness description of John’s day without first giving readers a clue about what was happening.
  • It didn’t feel like much happened in this book. Obviously I wasn’t expecting cover to cover action, but I thought something more would occur than John accepting the Lord into his heart or whatever. For instance, I was hoping for a more overt showdown between John and Gabriel. After sitting through an entire novel detailing the source of their tension, I expected something more than a staredown.


I know that Go Tell It on the Mountain is considered a classic in American literary canon, but it just wasn’t my kind of story. I had an extremely difficult time connecting to any of the characters and didn’t really care what was happening to them, what they wanted from their individual relationships with God, or how they ended up by the time I turned the last page. I’m sure I’m in the minority here, but this book was mostly just boring to me. I give it 2 stars out of 5.

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