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Jonah's Gourd Vine by Zora Neale Hurston

Jonah's Gourd Vine (1934)

by Zora Neale Hurston

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This somewhat biographical novel is the story of the rise and fall of John Pearson from son of a share-cropping family to charismatic preacher to fallen outcast. From the moment a teen-aged John sees Lucy Potts, he is determined to marry her. He frequently strays with other women, yet his love for Lucy draws him back to her. It's Lucy who inspires him to learn to read and write, and Lucy who recognizes his gift with words and steers him into the pulpit. Lucy's untimely death leaves John with nothing between him and his antagonists who seize the first opportunity to orchestrate his downfall.

Hurston's first novel is good but not great. Hurston tried to make John the center of the novel, but he was always upstaged, first by his mother, and then by Lucy. Just as John lost his way after Lucy's death, so the novel lost its momentum through the same event. ( )
  cbl_tn | May 28, 2017 |
Admittedly, this work is far more difficult than Hurston's better known Their Eyes Were Watching God, and not nearly so engaging. The dialect is nearly constant, and sometimes required sounding out, which I didn't find to be the case in her other works. But while the characters aren't ever truly likable, they are believable and telling. Hurston's ability for bringing unfamiliar settings to life is undeniable, and reading this work is no different than being physically transported back to a poor southern town in the early twentieth century.

In the end, the work does hold up to time, even if it won't be a fast or easy read for contemporary readers. Faith, tolerance, race, religion, hypocrisy: all are explored and played out here in Hurston's first published novel, none of them simply, and Hurston's readers are richer for the exploration and for the effort the novel requires. ( )
  whitewavedarling | Dec 8, 2013 |
If you’ve already read Hurston’s wonderful Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), some aspects of J’sGV will not be surprising to you, but saying more than that would reveal too much about Zora Neale Hurston’s first novel. While John is clearly at the centre of it, it’s Lucy I will remember (just as I remember Janie and not so much Tea Cake,) primarily for the practical and touching advice she passes to her daughter. I’ll share the beginning of that passage here, but you’ll have to read the novel for the rest: “…’member tuh git all de education you kin. Dat’s de onliest way you kin keep out from under people’s feet. You always strain tuh be de bell cow, never be de tail uh nothin’.”Take some extra time for Zora Neale Hurston’s writing: it’s worth it. ( )
  buriedinprint | Sep 15, 2011 |
So Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become of the city. And the LORD God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceedingly glad of the gourd. But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered. And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die, and said, It is better for me to die than to live.

And God said to Jonah, Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd? And he said, I do well to be angry, even unto death. Then said the LORD, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night: And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?

Jonah 4:5-11

Hurston's first novel, published in 1934, is a fictionalized account of the lives of her parents set in the post-Reconstruction South to the years that followed the First World War. The title refers to the Biblical prophet, who cared more about the death of the gourd vine that sheltered him from the sun than the people of the nearby town of Nineveh, who were at risk of annihilation at the hand of God.

John Crittenden is born out of wedlock in post-Reconstruction Alabama to Amy, who later marries Ned, a sharecropper and embittered former slave who constantly butts heads with the strapping "high yaller" boy who isn't his own. Weary of the abuse and threats of his stepfather, John travels to a nearby farm to work, and meets Lucy, a younger girl who he falls in love with and ultimately marries. However, John is a strong and handsome man who is desired by many women, and he takes full advantage of this, to the detriment of his wives and young children. The aftermath of one affair nearly lands him on a chain gang, and he escapes to Florida, where he eventually moves to Eatonville, one of the first all-black towns in the Deep South. After working as a carpenter and sending for his family he eventually becomes a gifted preacher, who is in high demand in neighboring towns. However, he has not lost his taste for the flesh despite his love of the Spirit, and the problems that caused him to flee Alabama come to haunt him and his family in Florida.

I enjoyed this debut effort by Hurston, with its rich characters and compelling story, and I plan to read her other three novels in my Library of America collection, Zora Neale Hurston: Novels and Stories, namely Their Eyes Were Watching God (a re-read), Moses, Man of the Mountain and Seraph on the Suwanee, later this year. ( )
4 vote kidzdoc | Feb 27, 2011 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Zora Neale Hurstonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Diaz, DavidCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To Bob Wunsch who is one of the long-wingded angels right round the throne--go gator and muddy the water. The author
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God was grumbling his thunder and playing the zig-zag lightning thru his fingers.
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Book description
John Pearson begins in poverty, south of Big Creek, yet achieves some schooling, a job and marriage to Lucy. But his persuasive fists and ready tongue can still get him into trouble. Escaping the vigilantes, he goes to Sanford, Florida, an all-Black town, and sends for Lucy and the children. Now he discovers a taste for preaching. As Pastor of Zion Hope he prays and sins--for his persuasiveness is not confined to the pulpit. (From the back cover of the Virago edition)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060916516, Paperback)

The first novel by the noted black novelist, folklorist, and anthropologist. Originally published in 1934, it was praised by Carl Sandburg as "a bold and beautiful book, many a page priceless and unforgettable."

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:05 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Jonah's Gourd Vine, Zora Neale Hurston's first novel, originally published in 1934, tells the story of John Buddy Pearson, "a living exultation" of a young man who loves too many women for his own good. Lucy, his long-suffering wife, is his true love, but there's also Mehaley and Big 'Oman, as well as the scheming Hattie, who conjures hoodoo spells to ensure his attentions. Even after becoming the popular pastor of Zion Hope, where his sermons and prayers for cleansing rouse the congregation's fervor, John has to confess that though he is a preacher on Sundays, he is a "natchel man" the rest of the week. And so in this sympathetic portrait of a man and his community, Zora Neale Hurston shows that faith, tolerance, and good intentions cannot resolve the tension between the spiritual and the physical. That she makes this age-old dilemma come so alive is a tribute to her understanding of the vagaries of human nature.… (more)

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