Go Tell It on the Mountain: Novel Summary: Part 3 - The Threshing-Floor

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Continuing in the present, John is on the floor of the church looking up to God. This final section returns to having John as the main focus. He feels as though he has no control over his body and it is as though he has been possessed. An ironic voice tells him to get up, to go, and he longs to be on the mountain top.

He compares himself to the 'accursed son' of Noah who looked on his father's nakedness and hated him, and it is significant that he ruminates over the idea of a curse, as though this explains racism and slavery: 'Ah, that son of Noah's had been cursed, down to the present groaning generation: A servant of servants shall be unto his brethren.' This concept of a curse is then taken back further, to Adam and Eve, invoking the idea that all of mankind must suffer for the Fall.

A hallucinatory or dream-like style is then adopted and a figurative and literal battle between Gabriel and John is alluded to. Gabriel insists that John is the Devil's son and that he will beat it out of him. The narrative returns momentarily to the present, in church, and moves back immediately to the same fragmented prose, where John now thinks he is in the grave with no one to help him: 'Here there was no speech or language, and there was no love; no one to say: You are beautiful, John; no one to forgive him, no matter what his sin; no one to heal him, and lift him up.' He also hears a sound he has always heard, a sound of rage. He asks for mercy and sees the river, and sees the Lord for a moment. Examples are cited from the Old and New Testament of figures who have suffered for 'them' awaiting deliverance and eternal life.

There is a shift back to the main narrative as it is specified that the night and the powers of darkness have passed and John is a saint now, that is, he is a saved member of the congregation. He is congratulated by the other members present, including his mother, but Gabriel does not move to touch or kiss him or even smile. He tells John he wants to see him live it; being saved is 'more than a notion'.

It is dawn as they all leave the church. Elizabeth walks with three of the saints, Praying Mother Washington, Sister Price and Sister McCandless. As the other women talk in congratulatory tones about John being saved, Elizabeth's response remains ambiguous. Her memories flit back (and this text is placed in italics) to when John and Gabriel first met, and bitter tears begin to fall. She also recalls talking to Richard about the first time they met.

Florence walks with Gabriel and they both taunt each other with stinging comments. She informs him that she is aware of his first son, Royal, and that she has the letter from Deborah to prove it. She rebukes him for his treatment of Deborah and Esther and lets him know she also wants to tell Elizabeth that she is not the only sinner in the family as Gabriel has led her to believe. Florence tells him it is time he paid for his sins rather than always blaming Elizabeth for hers. Her final words to Gabriel are that she will not go in silence, implying that she will not die with this being kept a secret.

John and Elisha walk home together and discuss the night's events. John's parents approach and Elizabeth's smile 'remained unreadable'. John cannot tell what she is hiding as she asks him to come upstairs and change from his wet clothes.

John puts his hand on Elisha's arm and asks him to remember he was saved that night regardless of what people may say about him in the future. Elisha responds by kissing him on the forehead with 'a holy kiss'. The novel ends with John smiling at Gabriel, but this is not returned. John responds to his mother and tells her he is ready and is on his way.

Although this final section has circled back to the beginning in that it has John as the central character, there is a refusal to offer closure for the reader. Instead, it emphasizes ambiguous responses, such as Elizabeth's double-edged reaction to John becoming a saint, and thus finishes on a deliberate note of caution about John's new status. Gabriel's tight-lipped reaction to John being saved is typical of his brittle approach, but, combining the reactions of both parents, it is possible to argue that the novel questions, without entirely undermining, the notion of being saved and the validity of spiritual awakening.

The responses to John's awakening are depicted as ambiguous, but his empowerment and ability to look at his father as an equal, even if this is not reciprocated, is brought to the fore here. His new status symbolizes a personal growth, from boy to man, over the space of his birthday and the next morning. In this light, the novel is a condensed Bildungsroman that stretches over two days. It charts the possibility of refusing to be treated unfairly and John's final smile for Gabriel, which is not returned by Gabriel, highlights this all the more.

The (step) father and son relationship is also central to this chapter because John's time spent on the threshing-floor battling with the forces of evil are described figuratively through the struggle between him and Gabriel. At first John thinks hardship is elemental to being African American, but swiftly moves on to consider this as a human condition. With the references to Noah and his son, and the Fall of Adam and Eve, it is implied that the struggle between generations, and between good and evil, is a timeless and universal one. The father and son antagonism is offered as a metaphor for individuation and separation. The acceptance of this battle is extended to represent a resignation to the eternal struggle between opposing forces as well.

In conclusion, Go Tell it on the Mountain condenses its use of time over 24 hours, which stretch into two days, but past memories are constantly allowed to interrupt the linearity. This occurs throughout the novel, but this style is most notable in the 'Prayers' of Florence, Gabriel and Elizabeth. The histories of these older characters are placed in a central position and are useful counterpoints to John's story which frames the whole novel. Because there are these varying points of view, rather than simply one voice, it is possible to see the subjectivity of each character's perspective. These differing voices also highlight how influential history is in shaping the identity of each character.

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