“Perhaps, as we say in America, I wanted to find myself. This is an interesting phrase, not current as far as I know in the language of any other people, which certainly does not mean what it says but betrays a nagging suspicion that something has been misplaced. I think now that if I had had any intimation that the self I was going to find would turn out to be only the same self from which I had spent so much time in flight, I would have stayed at home. But, again, I think I knew, at the very bottom of my heart, exactly what I was doing when I took the boat for France” (p. 21).
Through going abroad, David attempts to find reconciliation in who he is; David hopes to determine his sexuality without the pressure of his family. Hence, Baldwin chooses to write from a retrospective point of view to incorporate details that David—at the moment he chose to go to France—did not know. Through Baldwin writing in retrospect, David admits to “…think[ing] now that if [he] had had any intimation that the self [he] was going to find would turn out to be only the same self from which [he] had spent so much time in flight, [he] would have stayed at home” (p. 21). This admittance is crucial to the plot of the novel, as David focuses upon his fateful night with Joey throughout the first twenty pages or so; this was the night that David discovers that he enjoys the company of men as much, if not more, than women. Thus, the narrator is inserting details that allude to David going to France to discover his sexuality in an environment with no outside influence.
David attempts to set off on a voyage of self-discovery when he begins to sense that his dad “… thought [him and David] were alike [and David] did not want to think so” (p. 17). David fears being confined to what his father is; he fears being compared to his father because he knows that he is nothing like him. David enjoyed his sexual encounter with Joey; his father enjoys the company of women. David utilizes alcohol to stifle the pain caused by his inability to be like his father; David wants to be straight and fears that he is gay. Therefore, when David goes to France, David and his father “… got on quite well, really, for the vision [he] gave [his] father of [his] life was exactly the vision in which [he himself] most desperately needed to believe” (p. 20). The vision being that David is straight. Thus, the retrospective narrator comments that “… [he] think[s] [he] knew, at the very bottom of [his] heart, exactly what [he] was doing when [he] took the boat for France” (p. 21) because David knew that he would need to escape the pressure of conformity to be happy; David knew that, if he were to discover his true self, he would need to be free from judgment.