Jonah’s Gourd Vine Syllabus

“A bold and beautiful book, many a page priceless and unforgettable.”—Carl Sandburg

Zora Neale Hurston’s first novel Jonah’s Gourd Vine, published in 1934, is based on the story of her parents’ marriage. Here, John Pearson—country preacher and unfaithful husband, steps into the role of Zora’s father. Lucy, his long suffering wife, is his true love, but there is also Mehaley and Big ’Oman, as well as the scheming Hattie. 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 he is a “natchel man.” In this portrait of a man and his community, Zora Neale Hurston shows how faith, tolerance, and good intentions cannot resolve the tension between the spiritual and the physical.

Suggested Course Use

In courses on literature and religion, Jonah’s Gourd Vine, paired with works from various historical periods and cultures, will focus students on concepts such as good and evil, self and self-realization, oppression and tolerance, spiritual quest, love and friendship, family, and authenticity. A course that included Jonah’s Gourd Vine, Antigone, excerpts from Moby Dick, Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Il’ch, Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett, and contemporary works such as Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Dreams and Bharati Mukherjee’s Jasmine would allow students to discern common problems, values, and aspirations that all humans share across time periods as they are introduced to various literary modes.

Rich in wordplay and proverbs, Jonah’s Gourd Vine will help students imagine themselves into Southern life in the early 20th century—a world that is disappearing—yet is still accessible through Zora Neale Hurston’s works. For a course on Southern literature that includes a variety of genres from novels, short stories to plays and autobiographies, pairing Jonah’s Gourd Vine with such works as The Awakening by Kate Chopin, Frederick Douglass’s Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Pudd’nhead Wilson by Mark Twain, William Faulkner’s As I Lay I Dying, Celia, A Slave by Melton A. McLaurin, Tennessee Williams’s A Street Car Named Desire, and Tom Franklin’s Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter will allow students to explore how class, race, gender, sexuality,  religion, and slavery and its legacies have factored into southern literary writing.

Example Syllabus
Progress, Race, and Regionalism in American Literature: University of South Carolina
Hurston & Wright: University of Michigan – Flint
Southern Literature: University of Mary Washington