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Go Tell it on the Mountain

James Baldwin

Part Three: "The Threshing-Floor"

Part Two: "The Prayers of the Saints" - Elizabeth's Prayer

Part Three: "The Threshing-Floor", page 2

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John undergoes a terrifying hallucinatory experience of spiritual rebirth. In his visions, he struggles with his father, with his doubts and sins and fears, with strange sounds and horribly vivid, imagined sufferings. At last the ordeal ends when John catches what he believes to be the briefest glimpse of the Lord Himself. It is morning; he is saved. Brother Elisha and the saints, as well as his family, have been with him all through the night.

The saints rejoice. John cries. His mother and aunt are proud and encouraging. His father, however, remains cold; when John tells his father that he knows that he is saved, Gabriel is skeptical: "It come from your mouth," he says. "I want to see you live it. It's more than a notion." The congregation heads out into the dawn.

Elizabeth walks with the praying women of the congregation who rejoice and congratulate her on her son. She cries, overcome with emotion. The women think she cries because her heart is full of gladness, but there is a bitterness to her tears that they cannot appreciate.

Florence walks with Gabriel. A lifetime of mutual resentment and enmity bubbles over. Florence challenges Gabriel's pretensions to holiness, interrogating him, "Who is you met, Gabriel, all your holy life long, you ain't made to drink a cup of sorrow?" She shows him Deborah's letter, which she has carried with her all these years. "I know you thinking at the bottom of your heart," she tells him, referring to Elizabeth, "that if you just make her, her and her bastard boy, pay enough for her sin, your son won't have to pay for yours. But I ain't going to let you do that."

John walks with Elisha. The avenue looks changed irrevocably in John's eyes. He asks Elisha questions; Elisha comforts and encourages him. John implores Elisha to pray for him, to help him so that he will not falter. Elisha promises that he will look out for his little brother in the Lord. They arrive at John's house. Florence and the praying women wave from the street corner. John's parents come up to the house, and Elisha gives John a holy kiss on the forehead. The sun comes up as Elisha walks away down the avenue. John smiles at his father, but his father does not smile in return. John's mother is waiting for him in the doorway.


In Part Three the father-son conflict is reformulated into another Biblical parallel: the story of Noah and Ham. John, like Ham, happens to see his father naked. For Ham, this event led to a curse upon him: "A servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren." It is this curse that proponents of slavery have invoked as the "Biblical justification" for slaveholding. John fleetingly wonders if it is true that this curse has been handed down from generation to generation, that black people are the bearers of it; however, he soon realizes that the curse, if there is one, is borne by all humans.

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