The Article, “Worm Against the World”, highlights the importance of literature and language within Hurston’s novel, Jonah’s Gourd Vine. While I previously paid attention to symbolism and metaphors as they relate to characterization, I had not yet paid attention to the actual importance of language and literature and the movement they created with John Person and Lucy.
Ciuba, speaks on how literature worked both as a force that pulled John and Lucy together as well as one that pushed them apart. Literature allowed John to project his future with Lucy; from first meeting Lucy at a school yard, to evolving from writing Lucy Potts to Lucy Pearson on the chimney, and attempting to pass notes to Lucy on her drawing board, Hurston showcases linguistic connection of these two characters. As their marriage progresses, Hurston plays with the dichotomy of literary internalization of both characters in the marriage. Ironically, something that once tied them together creates what Ciuba calls a “schism’ between them. While Lucy internalizes the teachings of the bible, seen by her references to education and Axe 26,(136) John’s lack of internalization of his teaching is evident by his constant succumbing to cheating and it eventually creates a chasm in their marriage. Hurston shows that despite John’s prospering’s through literature, symbolized through, jobs, schooling, preaching, and eventual mayor position, he is literarily inferior to Lucy because of his inability to incorporate the last step. Hurston brings into question the charisma and maleness in black leadership by exposing to the reader the dependency of John on Lucy for something he can not do. Lucy functions essentially as Johns gourd vine, by protecting him and acting as the brain behind John’s success, a dependency Hurston further emphasizes by highlighting the unraveling of John at the loss of Lucy. John stays unraveled until he comes under the shelter of Sally, who he references as a response to his “prayer for Lucy’s return” (200). The linguistic characterization highlighted by Ciuba made me more aware of how Hurston in many ways, comments on the expectations of black women in the background of black men’s success.
JH Howard enlightened me on the important role music played during the film by it being a catalyst for transformation for characters and audiences alike. Howard illustrates through this article that music has the power to connect by allowing the viewer to be invested in the pains, triumphs, excitement and sorrows of the characters. This enables the film to put more emphasis on the transitions in the plot because the objective is to feel something. Chanting, repetition, and dancing evokes empathy out of the audience and allows them to feel in the moment what the characters do, to get engaged in the fight between morality and immorality, to feel the tug between worlds. However, after reading the article and realizing that this movie was viewed and largely enjoyed by a white audience, I question to whom did this sensual connection benefitted.
Howard states that in Hallelujah the black characters were largely based on stereotypes about the black community. The gateway created by music in the film, allowing viewers to feel the emotional struggle of the characters, could have been an unprecedented way to present the reality of black life and be a catalyst for change in race relations. However, instead it facilitated not a change in schema but a continuity in the racial stigma around black culture by highlighting the idea of “them” that white people had in mind about black people and building entire characters on such preconceived notions. The belittlement of the character Zeke into a man fighting between sexual desires and God, the boys happily tap dancing on tables in raggedy clothing, or the laughing and joy of the family the cotton fields, illuminate the disconnect between the white mental label of black life versus the actuality of it. Franz Fanon’s White Skin Black Masks speaks on the inner turmoil that stems from living under a label that was not created by you but is mandated for you, describing the black man as living in an environment “which has shaped him (but he has not shaped)” and stating that it “has torn him apart” (Fanon 190). I now question to what extent did this film further damage the black subconscious self image through its catering to white audiences by portraying black individuals as people happily living in oppression with rampant sexual desires so strong they polarize Christianity and sex as if they cannot coexist.