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John and Roy are brothers with a difference. They both desire freedom but they think differently. The two brothers hate their father for imposing his authority on them and restricting their life. However, John silently nurtures a grudge against his father, while Roy speaks out his mind. Roy is outspoken and daring, while John is reserved and subdued. John mostly suppresses his feelings and fumes within. Mrs. Grimes and Aunt Florence are like John and Roy. Elizabeth does all housework and attends to her family without complaining. She patiently listens to Roy’s grievances and her husband’s counsel. Only once, when Gabriel scolds her for allowing Roy to get into mischief, does she express her feelings. However, when Gabriel slaps her, she silently bears her humiliation. Florence, on the other hand, exposes the arrogance of Gabriel and reminds him of his errant past. She defends Elizabeth and warns Gabriel of his rash actions. She is not afraid to call a spade a spade. Like Roy, she uses swear words and crude language to voice her anger.
John becomes aware of the racial prejudice existing in his country and develops an inferiority complex. He does not accept his father’s views that all White people are sinners. His teacher at school and Principal had treated him respectfully. However, when he walks along the Fifth Avenue, he becomes conscious of his colour and fears punishment by the Whites. Also, when he enters the Cinema hall, he watches his steps and sits down cautiously. He is afraid to enter the library because he is afraid of the whites observing him and making fun of his awkward movements.
James Baldwin convincingly portrays the feelings and sentiments of an adolescent. As a teenager, John becomes aware of the adult world. He knows about the love games men and women play and what his father does with his mother secretively. He admires the young priest Elisha for his personality and talent. He is conscious of his appearance and views himself in the mirror. He is aware that he is ugly. However, he tries to overlook his ugliness by visualizing himself as a handsome young man. He craves for attention and appreciation. On his fourteenth birthday, he longs to be greeted by his family members and when no one comes to wish him, he is disappointed. When his mother gifts him a little money for his birthday, he is overwhelmed. He loves her the more for it and desires to please her.
John is angry with his father for his autocratic ways. However, he does not have the courage to challenge him. He can only desire to overpower his father. Thus, when he watches a movie and observes the heroine acting arrogantly towards her lover, he imagines himself to be like her. He wants to act tough with his father and pay him back in his own coin. Later, at the church, when Elisha teases him about his work, he gets provoked and lets out his anger on his father on the young priest. He releases his frustration on Elisha and hurts him. His inferiority complex and his hatred for his father transform into violence. John burns with the fire of revolt and rebels inside the temple of god.