In modern day queer culture, there is a movement to create “safe spaces” for LGBTQ identified people. These spaces are designed to be places where gender can be expressed outside of the binary, and love or attraction is expressed outside of heteronormativity. In James Baldwin’s tragic novel, Giovanni’s Room, David and Giovanni create such a “safe space” in Giovanni’s small room where the two carry out their love affair. This room serves to provide a backdrop for their affair-and “life in that room seemed to be occurring beneath the sea, time flowed past indifferently above us, hours and days had no meaning” (p. 77).
Much like in Rachilde’s Monsieur Venus, where Raoule and Jacques create their own safe space, a love nest-if you will, Giovanni and David use Giovanni’s room as a place where they can express their desire for each other without fear of judgement or persecution. It is a room where Giovanni and David do not feel the need to define themselves in terms of society’s mores. David is unable to “describe that room. It became, in a way, every room I had ever been in and every room I find myself in hereafter will remind me of Giovanni’s room” (p. 84). Giovanni is intensely protective of their space and what it means for them, so much so that he stiffened “like a hunting dog and remained perfectly silent until whatever had threatened our safety had moved away” (p. 85).
But their fabricated idyllic life could not be sustained. Being in Giovanni’s room, being with Giovanni, causes David to question his manhood and his very being. “I wanted to be inside again, with the light and safety, with my manhood unquestioned” (p. 104). When David comes home to find Giovanni drunk after being fired, he feels “the walls of the room closing in on me” (p. 105).
Upon Hella’s return, David feels an intense need to flee the safe space that is Giovanni’s room, and to run from Paris. Her return, combined with the loss of Giovanni’s job destroys what David and Giovanni had within the confines of Giovanni’s room. David doesn’t want a safe space to express his desires, in fact, he wants to get as far away from them as possible.
When David leaves he asks Giovanni, “What kind of life can we have in this room?-this filthy little room. What kind of life can two men have together, anyway?” (p. 143). David has realized that the safe confines of Giovanni’s room do not extend to the outside world, and he cannot face the prospect of being with Giovanni.
After Giovanni is caught for murdering Guillaume, Hella and David begin traveling. Hella eventually uncovers David’s secret, and just what Giovanni’s room meant to the two men. “I only knew that I had to get out of Giovanni’s room” David tells Hella (p. 164). Hella leaves, Giovanni dies and David is left with no room and no love.