Baldwin lays down the terrible symmetries of these two blighted lives as the ironic context for John's dark night of the soul. When day dawns, John believes himself saved, but his creator makes it clear that this salvation arises as much from blindness as revelation: "He was filled with a joy, a joy unspeakable, whose roots, though he would not trace them on this new day of his life, were nourished by the wellspring of a despair not yet discovered."
Though it was hailed at publication for its groundbreaking use of black idiom, what is most striking about Go Tell It on the Mountain today is its structure and its scope. In peeling back the layers of these damaged lives, Baldwin dramatizes the story of the great black migration from rural South to urban North. "Behind them was the darkness," Baldwin writes of Gabriel and Elizabeth's lost generation, "nothing but the darkness, and all around them destruction, and before them nothing but the fire--a bastard people, far from God, singing and crying in the wilderness!" This is Baldwin's music--a music in which rhapsody is rooted anguish--and there is none finer in American literature. --David Laskin