His choice of theme was brave simply because in the decade of the 50's homosexuality was still an issue not spoken of or discussed openly. America was waking up to the call of the civil rights movement and it would still take her people a few more years to accept issues of such controversy. The caging effect that conventions can have on a person is also highlighted effectively by Baldwin as he depicts David's struggle with the decision of marrying Hella, simply because it was expected of him. Baldwin, however, was not intimidated by the frowns of disapproval directed his way and with great determination highlighted the plight of those forced to live in the closet simply because they are terrified of breaking conventions and not being able to measure up to the definition of "respectable" formulated by those around them.
In today's world, however, when gay literature is quite common and the issue of coming out of the closet is not as burning as it was half a century ago, the greatest appeal of the novel lies in the manner in which Baldwin has sheathed his central character under layers and layers of a complex psychology. Baldwin has portrayed David not simply as a two-dimensional gay character but has breathed a life into him by depicting in great detail the inner struggles and dilemmas that he faces and how his personality is shaped and molded by his childhood experiences and the constraints that he feels because of the social conventions. At this point it cannot be denied that the most important force in David's life as a child had undoubtedly been that of his father. Even after David has grown up, one could feel the palpable presence of his father looming somewhere in the background. It is, without a doubt, the forceful personality of his father that indirectly affected David's vital decisions and choices.
The importance of David's father in David's life can be linked directly to Baldwin's relationship with his own preacher father (Allen, p.29). Baldwin believed that the influence a father exercised over his children could not be denied - his own abusive father leaving imprints of his personality permanently on young Baldwin. It is this same influence that Baldwin desired to create by depicting David's relation with his father. His main aim was to show how vital the support of a family is for a homosexual and how much influence our near and dear ones exert when it comes to the decision a homosexual makes about his lifestyle choices.
David's father, although in no way bearing any resemblance to the insane, ranting and abusive father of Baldwin, was a handsome man who had a particular and active fondness for women and alcohol. Baldwin depicted him in such a way that he naturally stood out, not only as attractive but someone who possessed a great deal of easy charm, with his ruddy face, sandy hair and his readiness to laugh. Baldwin has taken care not to introduce him as a clean-cut, out-of-the-factory villain of the story. This would have robbed the novel of its unique complexity and while giving the novel an easy to understand plot, would have deprived it of psychologically complex characters. His sister, Ellen, who believed him to be negatively influencing his son, always met his promiscuousness with disapproval. Once, as David recounts, a fierce argument took place between Aunt Ellen and his father, when he returned one night drunk, as was his custom. Upon being