"Real Gods Require Blood": The Religious Significance Of Death In James Baldwin's Go Tell It On The Mountain And If Beale Street Could Talk
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DepartmentEnglish and Languages
ProgramDoctor of Philosophy
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This dissertation proposes that in Go Tell It on the Mountain and If Beale Street Could Talk, James Baldwin uses death as a religious experience that represents a spiritual reckoning for characters in each novel. Baldwin's interpretation of death and the ramifications concerned with the realities of death, thematically tie together in both novels to formulate a theological proclamation. Chapter two focuses on the father/son theme in the novels and reinterprets this theme using the premise of adoption, articulated by Apostle Paul in Ephesians, to describe the dynamic relationships between fathers and sons. Leonard Shengold's definition of soul murder is employed to establish the fathers as powerful and murderous. Chapter three, by exploring the symbolism of religious sacrifice, examines the figurative meaning and religious value of death for the novels' characters and proposes that the characters, whether powerful or powerless, seek death as an entryway to their true fates. Orlando Patterson's definition of social death is utilized to establish death as an everyday reality of the characters of the novels. Chapter four examines death through the idea of mortification to suggest that for blacks, death is an inherent consequence of a socio-political order that defines them as inferior before birth. Kenneth Burke's theory of conscious-laden repression is used to reexamine the Fall of Man in order to illustrate the profound implication of death on the powerless subject. This study concludes that Baldwin's use of religion, in particular death, moves beyond biblical metaphor and therefore both novels should be examined as more than fictional. Through his search for spiritual meaning encoded in biblical passages, James Baldwin's work should be considered religious text; therefore, Baldwin, though he might have objected to the distinction, should be considered a theologian.