Religion in Southern Lit

Richards started to ask us about religion in all these works at one point yesterday, but we got going on something else and got away from it. I have a feeling it might come up though, so here are my thoughts on that one:

Let’s start with Poe. Religion is largely absent from his narration. Perhaps the idea of resurrection in the fear of being buried alive, but I think that the hang up on being buried alive has less to do with religion as much as a fear of being forgotten, of disappearing without a trace.

Frederick Douglass. The man gives us a whole appendix justifying his statements about religion. He describes the worst landowners as being the Christian ones and differentiates between slave owning white Christianity and real Christianity.

Harriet Jacobs: Religious rhetoric plays into gaining the approval of her audience. It’s linked in with her sentimentalism as authenticating her as an author and character and mother. She uses it to play up the pathos and ethos of her readers. She also dialogues with Douglass in her presentation of a sort of bifricated Christianity.

Puddn’head: God isn’t completely absent, but he doesn’t really have a role. Perhaps there is something to be said of Roxy trying to play God in switching the babies, and she is thus condemned for it, but largely Twain’s satire focuses on mocking the southern society and their innate ideas of race and class.

The Awakening: The Catholic religion has a definite presence in the formulation of the Creole culture, but how much does religion actually affect Edna’s decision? Is it another element that helps create her ‘outsider’-ness?

As I Lay Dying: Addie lives to die. These people really don’t have a religion. They are immoral, they are grotesque, they drill holes into the coffin. Death for Addie is more revenge than salvation

Jonah’s Gourd Vine: Religion is a sort of tool of John to put himself on par with the white man, but it also means something more- we have these long sermons, but we approached them as having more value culturally than anything else. After all, John the man whore is the ultimate hypocritical Chrisitan- preaches, then goes and betrays his wife. Is Hurston saying something more about the hypocrisy of Christianity – does this link her to Freddy D and HJ?

A Streetcar Named Desire: Stanley and Stella… hm, not really sure when the last time they went to Church was. Sex >God in this one, although I’m pretty sure Blanche could benefit from a confession or two. In comparing the settings of New Orleans in both The Awakening and Streetcar- religion has a different role in each

8 Responses to “Religion in Southern Lit”

  1. Meg Baker says:

    This was very interesting to look over, since I was struggling to find religion in some of the texts.

  2. Stephen says:

    Jonah’s Gourd Vine isn’t really about the hypocritical Christian as it is more about the tragedy of exile brought on to those that are religious leaders by a community. John Buddy is a preacher and sinner, not being the only man to cheat on his wife, but because he is in the position of power, he is looked at differently and held to a different sort of standards than everyone else, whether he wants that or not. It’d also be useful to think about that analogy where everyone below him is trying to reach up and pull him down because they want to put themselves in his position and be the “big nigger.”

  3. Meg Baker says:

    I agree with Stephen, I don’t think there really is much there about hypocrisy. I think that religion in JGV is more about the culture surrounding religion than about religion itself.

    • lcutler says:

      Thanks guys! The bigger nigger analogy thing makes more sense. And I think Meg’s right- thinking about Hurston’s anthropological/folk tendencies, the religion in John Pearson’s world is definitely more about the cultural.

      • lcutler says:

        There’s the title too- the biblical reference where John is the gourd vine and his destructive tendencies are the worm that destroyed the gourd vine – he destroys himself

  4. cclark4 says:

    I keyed in on Richards’ attempt to discuss religion in the texts as well. Perhaps it will be one of the essay prompts for the final exam. For me, the JGV religion aspect was more of John’s leverage for power, as he used his linguistic talents to mesmerize the church goers, but then there was the struggle between what the religion said and what he did. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it hypocrisy, but I agree that he only followed “scripture” when it was convenient for him.

  5. hokiepride81 says:

    For the Awakening, religion is important when comparing it to SND. The two protagonists, Edna and Blanche, walk in to multi-cultural settings. For SND, this is VERY apparent and all over the place, but in The Awakening, the one big difference Edna walks into is religion.

    Being Presbyterian , Edna holds an entirely different culture than that of her peers. The differences between the Protestant and Catholic worlds end up playing a MAJOR role in Edna’s awakening.

  6. meganne says:

    For Poe, I would add the Law and Order “chung-chung” at the end. Very appropriate/mysterious.