- "Everyone had always said that John would be a preacher when he grew up, just like his father. It had been said so often that John, without ever thinking about it, had come to believe it himself " (p. 11)
These first two sentences of the novel introduce John's disquiet and lack of autonomy.
- "He awoke on this birthday morning with the feeling that there was a menace in the air around him - that something irrevocable had occurred in him." (p. 19)
Here, there is a hint to the future events of both the violence that ensues with Roy's stabbing, and the aftermath, and John's eventual separation from Gabriel's influence at the end of the novel.
- "He lived for the day when his father would be dying and he, John, would curse him on his death-bed. And this was why, though he had been born in the faith and had been surrounded all his life by the saints and by their prayers and their rejoicing, and though the tabernacle in which they worshipped was more completely real to him than the several precarious homes in which he and his family had lived, John's heart was hardened against the Lord. His father was God's minister, the ambassador of the King of Heaven, and John could not bow before the throne of grace without first kneeling to his father." (p. 23)
This quotation explains the depth of John's hatred for Gabriel and contextualizes his theological struggles. Parallels may be drawn between this reference and Florence's distaste for religion on the grounds that her brother is a deacon.
- "John and his father stared at each other, struck dumb and still and with something come to life between them - while the Holy Ghost spoke. Gabriel had never seen such a look on John's face before; Satan, at that moment, stared out of John's eyes while the Spirit spoke; and yet John's staring eyes to-nigh reminded Gabriel of other eyes; of his mother's eyes when she beat him, of Florence's eyes when she mocked him, of Deborah's eyes when she prayed for him, of Esther's eyes and Royal's eyes, and Elizabeth's eyes to-night before Roy cursed him, and of Roy's eyes when Roy said: 'You black bastard.' And John did not drop his eyes, but seemed to want to stare for ever into the bottom of Gabriel's soul". (p. 174)
This occurs as Elisha speaks 'in a tongue of fire'. It is as though, in this instant, John embodies Gabriel's guilt. Gabriel's reaction is to blame John for arousing these negative emotions and treats him as a scapegoat. This is also a useful quotation for demonstrating the beginning of John's open resistance to Gabriel's authority.
- "It was he who had told her to weep, when she wept, alone; never to let the world see, never to ask for mercy; if one had to die, to go ahead and die, but never to let oneself be beaten." (p. 178)
This advice is for Elizabeth from her father. It is whilst she is a child and comes shortly before she is separated from him to live with her aunt.
- "On the threshing-floor, in the centre of the crying, singing saints, John lay astonished beneath the power of the Lord." (p. 219)
At this point, at the end of Part Two - 'Elizabeth's Prayer', John is saved.
- "Then John knew that a curse was renewed from moment to moment, from father to son. Time was indifferent, like snow and ice; but the heart, crazed wanderer in the driving waste, carried the curse for ever." (p. 228)
Parallels have been drawn in the paragraph immediately prior to this quotation with the 'accursed son' of Noah looking on his father's nakedness. A further analogy is then made in the text with the 'curse' on African-Americans. This quotation can be regarded as problematic in that racism is described in fatalistic terms.
- " 'Praise the Lord,' said his father. He did not move to touch him, did not kiss him, did not smile. They stood before each other in silence, while the saints rejoiced; and John struggled to speak the authoritative, the living word that would conquer the great division between his father and himself. But it did not come, the living word; in the silence something died in John, and something came alive." (p. 240)
John is now one of the saints of his church. He is saved, but Gabriel is incapable of expressing pleasure. This demonstrates Gabriel's entrenched distance from John and the final part of the quotation shows John's desire for Gabriel's approval is at last diminishing.
- "And her smile remained unreadable; he could not tell what it hid. And to escape her eyes, he kissed her, saying; 'Yes Mama. I'm coming.'" (p. 255)
This quotation exemplifies Elizabeth's ambiguous reaction to John becoming one of the saints. This ambiguity is crucial to the novel's avoidance of closure.
- " 'Elisha,' he said, 'no matter what happens to me, where I go, what folks say about me, no matter what anybody says, you remember - please remember - I was saved. I was there.' " (p. 256)
This may be interpreted as another sign of John seeking approval from Elisha. It is also a reminder to the reader that John, and perhaps Baldwin (as this is a semi-autobiographical novel), should not be readily condemned because of their future decisions.
Go Tell It on the Mountain: Top Ten Quotes