|Go Tell it on the Mountain
Grades: Grades 10-11
John Grimes is an African-American teenager living in Harlem in 1935.
He hates and fears his stepfather, Gabriel, an overbearing, disapproving
Pentacostal preacher who prefers John's younger brother Roy. (John does
not know that Gabriel is not his natural father.) On his 14th birthday,
John explores downtown New York, returns home to witness a violent family
argument, then leaves to prepare the church for an evening service.
During the service, John's stepfather, mother, and aunt relive the past
in their minds. All three moved from the South to the North to improve
their lives but found only frustration and bitterness. As the adults
pray, John undergoes a dramatic religious experience in which he faces
the suffering that is his heritage. At dawn he arises, feeling a new
joy and strength.
- Background Music.
To help students appreciate the religious environment of the novel,
play a recording of spirituals or gospel music.
- Tapping Prior Knowledge: Parent/Child Relationships.
A central conflict in Go Tell it on the Mountain is a teenage
boy's troubled relationship with his stern and disapproving father.
Have students imagine themselves living in a poor family headed by
a strict, religious father who wants them to do nothing but go to
church. Ask students to role-play the various reactions a teenager
might have to to such a situation.
Fire and Brimstone.
Have students prepare a dramatization of one of Gabriel's sermons,
such as the one at the Twenty-Four Elders Revival Meeting or the
one that Esther and her mother attend. Students might watch a videotape
of an African-American minister giving a sermon or a speech to try
to capture the rhythm of the speaking style. The videotape of the
"I Have a Dream" speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is one possibility
that is available in many libraries.
- Mixed Media.
Ask students to make a collage depicting their impressions of some
aspect of the novel, such as John's vision, John's home, or Harlem
life. Remind students that in collages, they can combine drawing or
painting with photographs, newsprint, fabric, colored paper, or other
- The Great Migration.
Gabriel, Elizabeth, and Florence were all part of the Great Migration
of African Americans from the South to the North during the early
1900s. But their hopes and dreams were dashed. Ask students: How typical
were their experiences? Did the Great Migration result in any success
stories? Did some African Americans improve their lives? Have students
investigate the history of the Great Migration and prepare a report
on the experiences of African Americans, both positive and negative.
- Biblical Allusions.
Have students research one of the Biblical allusions from the novel,
such as the reference to Ezekiel's wheel or Jacob's Ladder. Have them
write a short essay identifying the source of the allusion and explaining
its meaning and significance in the novel.