John Pearson as a Christ Figure

While not a central argument in the article “The Worm against the Word”, a snippet that immediately grabbed my attention and I think is compelling was the mention of John being regarded as a Christ figure to those who have analyzed the story (Ciuba 128). The article makes clear the connection between John and the biblical prophet of Jonah, showing the growth John made in his hermeneutical identity being torn down by his inadequate care and upholding of the metaphorical gourd (120). John as a prophet figure can also be seen somewhat literally as he takes responsibility of taking the word of God from the Bible and preaching it to the church community including many who cannot read the word for themselves, creating his mediation between heaven and earth (120). However, the profile of a Christ figure is one which opens up a new way to analyze his place in the story Hurston wishes to convey.

Adele Reinhartz’s article “Jesus and Christ-Figures” outlines mostly the characteristics of Christ figures in films, but contributes frameworks for these figures in general, which allowed this specific point in “The Worm Against the Word” to catch my attention. Reinhartz’s article discusses Christ figures which are characters who foil the life of Jesus and whose plot parallels the life, death, and sometimes resurrection. Furthermore these figures are split into redeemer figures and savior figures, the former which takes on human sinfulness resulting in suffering, and the latter which takes on Jesus’ saving mission to either individuals or mankind. The article clarifies that these two sub-figures are not mutually exclusive. I think that John in the plot has the intention to take on aspects of the savior figure, becoming a preacher and taking on God’s word to the community. However, Hurston’s develops his character as one who takes on human suffering in the direct and active sense, therefore bringing him suffering. As John is one who partakes in human sinfulness, it would be interesting to further analyze his potential role as a redeemer Christ figure. Reinhartz also lists eight major component’s of Christ figures in popular culture which scholars have collected and refined over time. These include: mysterious origins, charisma, commitment to justice, conflict with authorities, the providing of redemption, withdrawal to a deserted place, suffering, and post-death recognition. While each of these could be expanded in relation to John’s character and his potential role as a Christ figure, I think the most interesting would be “mysterious origins”, “charisma”, “suffering” and “conflict with authorities”.

The Theme of Two Trains Passed Through Art Forms

James Weldon Johnson was an author and songwriter during the Harlem Renaissance who was dedicated to displaying the excellence and intelligence of the African American people during this time. His collection of sermons, God’s Trombones, was inspired by his attention to the folk-like qualities of sermons, as many themes and ideas were passed on from preacher to preacher. Some church goers even recall hearing sermons similar to Johnson’s from their own pastors today. Our viewing of Hallelujah and Death’s Black Train is Coming shows that ideas pass through not only pastors, but various art forms as well.

Two articles (here and here) about performances of God’s Trombones, made interesting point about Christian themes that appear both in the film Hallelujah and the song Death’s Black Train is Coming. The imagery of trains appears multiple times throughout Hallelujah, but the most obvious example is when Ezekiel gives his sermon after becoming a preacher. He references the train bringing worshippers to heaven and represents himself as the conductor of the train, not as though he’s a God-like figure himself, but simply a leader in bringing others to heaven’s gates “at the end of the road”. He invites everyone to follow, even the sinners we know in the crowd. Everyone is told to “repent before it’s too late” echoing similar ideas from Death’s Black Train is Coming”. I found powerful imagery in seeing Chick being the last one left to not join the “train”. As she looks around to see no one else left with her, she feels the physical representation of her fate of being left behind, ultimately leader her to repent.

However, my understanding of this scene and the metaphor of the train was deepened by the articles on James Weldon Johnson’s inspiration for his sermons. He describes hearing from his pastor “the Train sermon” in which there was one train going to hell and another to heaven, one with God as the conductor and the other run by the devil. In these ideas, those choosing to follow God have to both board his train and deny the other one as well. This means that in this scene, Chick feels that she is not only being left behind and left out of heaven, but is boarding the other train to hell.