From a young age, we’ve often heard the proverb “home is where the heart is”. Perhaps this saying makes it easier for us to see why David seems so lost and at the same time trapped in Giovanni’s Room; we do not know where his heart lies – probably because it is chained up and tucked away in a dark corner somewhere far away, hidden under thick layers of denial and internalized homophobia. But that’s beside the point. The idea of “home” really struck me as an interesting concept because it seems so concrete yet elusive at the same time. What makes a home? Is it “where the heart is”? Is it “wherever I’m with you”, “you” being a loved one? Why is Giovanni’s room not a home? Trapped in a room and drifting between homes seem like opposite states, but how does David manage to feel both simultaneously?
To begin, I did some research into the most common “definitions” of a home, taking inspiration from songs because they often concisely express the human condition. The youtube links to songs I referenced can be found at the end of this blog post. According to Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, “Home is wherever I’m with you”, and since it’s a love song, we can assume “you” refers to a loved one. Phillip Phillips sings, “If you get lost, you can always be found/ Just know you’re not alone/ Cause I’m going to make this place your home”. Simon and Garfunkel beautifully harmonize with “Home, where my thought’s escaping/ Home, where my music’s playing/ Home, where my love lies waiting/ Silently for me”. Dionne Warwick tells us what a home is not: “A room is a still a room/ Even when there’s nothin’ there but gloom/ But a room is not a house/ And a house is not a home/ When the two of us are far apart/ And one of us has a broken heart”. Putting his own spin on Warwick’s iconic song, Miike Snow croons:
Oh God I think I’m dying
And our drinks were just poured
Look outside someone’s waiting
With a yellow horse
With a hole in my heart I was supposed to ride
In morning traffic
With a golden hand by your fortress side
But without magic
Somebody, somebody, somebody tell me
It won’t be long
Cause a horse is not a home
A horse is not a home
Beneath the metaphor for a taxi (yellow horse) and one night stand (horse), there lies the message that a meaningless one night stand during heartbreak is “not a home”. From the lyrics of these songs combined, we can uncover a common thread: the definition of home involves more than one person and love always plays a role.
If Giovanni’s room meets the standards of the definition we extrapolated from songs, why does it not feel like a home to David? Perhaps one explanation is that since David can only envision a home governed by heteronormativity and dichotomized gender roles, a space occupied by two men – even if they are in love (or “love” in David’s case) – does not constitute a home. From his contempt for the older, more effeminate gay men he sees at the bar to his indignant refusal to play “little girl” to Giovanni, we can see that David views effeminacy as negative (even the word “effeminate” has a derogatory connotation towards men). This is further reinforced by the dichotomized gender roles and the binary that is set in David’s mind, as can be seen in the following passage:
“What kind of life can two men have together, anyway? All this love you talk about – isn’t it just that you want to be made to feel strong? You want to go out and be the big laborer and bring home the money, and you want me to stay here and wash the dishes and cook the food and clean this miserable closet of a room and kiss you when you come in through that door and lie with you at night and be your little girl. That’s what you want. That’s what you mean and that’s all you mean when you say you love me. You say I want to kill you. What do you think you’ve been doing to me?” (Baldwin 188)
It is then clear from this passage that Giovanni’s room does not satisfy our definition of a home. What David sees as Giovanni’s “love” is not really love at all, but a forcing of a gender role upon him which David violently rejects. David cannot accept himself as a homosexual because he equates it to being feminine – a crossing of the gender role binary that he is not willing to cross. David is stuck in this loop where he feels simultaneously a love for Giovanni and a repulsion towards all the feminine aspects of their relationship. At the same time, his denial of his love for Giovanni prevents him from finding a home despite being abroad in a foreign country. As a result, David is simultaneously trapped in a room and drifting without a home: his black and white view of gender roles, his negativity towards femininity in men, and his denial restrict him ultimately to a state of homelessness which puts him both at a standstill and in constant motion. Though it seems paradoxical, the constant movement in search of a home and a sense of belonging creates a stifling sense of stagnancy that permeates the novel.
Home by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros
Home by Phillip Phillips
Homeward Bound by Simon and Garfunkel
A House is not a Home by Dionne Warwick
A Horse is not a Home by Miike Snow