End of “Giovanni’s Room”
“But the end of innocence is also the end of guilt” (p. 112)
Debby: This line stood out to me– quite profoundly– amidst the flowery, thought-filled language that describes David’s state midway through the novel. There are two points to address here, I think. The first, is that David believes he is no longer innocent. That despite his experimentations in high school and all of his time in Giovanni’s room, only at this moment– when the knife is literally over Giovanni’s neck– he has moved from innocence into experience. There is something about the finality of Giovanni’s life that imposes hard, cold truth on David. He can no longer convince himself that he is “messing around” and faces the fact that he loved Giovanni in a way that he will never love someone else.
The second point this statement makes, which I find much more disturbing, is that this space in which he comes to terms with his experience also releases him from guilt. He felt guilt during the entirety of his stay in Giovanni’s room; guilt for the “unnatural” life he was leading with Giovanni, guilt for lying to his father, guilt for cheating on Hella, guilt for not providing for himself. While I think the “guilt” in this statement is, in fact, referencing the guilt associated with his homosexual interactions, the word still encompasses all of these other parts of his life. The end of his innocence and the breakthrough of experience is making him more jaded than ever before: he truly doesn’t feel anything is wrong with the way he has gone about his life.
Tim: Ok, let me start with the first of those. I thought this was a really interesting passage also, and I think it’s telling that you used the phrase “convince himself.” I’m very unconvinced that David’s not still lying to himself here. He’s saying that he sympathizes with Giovanni, that his “executioners are here with” him. Which is nice and metaphorical and may reflect the real love that he claims. But it’s also true that Giovanni is the one being executed, not David, and despite the fact that this is back in the “present” rather than a flashback, the position of this passage in the book combined with some of the melodramatic language with which David describes his anguish leads me to believe his pain over Giovanni is, at least in part, just a story he’s telling himself to make himself feel better about the way they parted. And that’s maybe where we get into the second point you made, that he’s absolving himself of his guilt. He can tell himself he’s no longer innocent, that he acknowledges his relationship with Giovanni (as we learn later he was pretty well forced to when Hella catches him with another man), but he uses it as a get-out-of-jail-free card when it comes to his guilt, and I’m not sure such a thing exists.
Debby: At this point in the novel, I definitely agree with you. I think he is shrugging off his guilt much too easily for it to be, in fact, true. However, I do think he begins to grow into his guilt-free lifestyle. While Hella does discover him with the sailor and he is forced to expose the truth about himself, he no longer feels guilty at all. He is sorry that Hella feels humiliated and bitter, but he simply asks that she “try to forgive [him]” (p. 165)