Marriage and the Lack of Whiteness in Hurston’s Stories

In both Color Struck and John Redding Goes to Sea, there is a marriage that is left unfulfilled after a death. Emma’s marriage with John is unfulfilled due to the death of her daughter and John Redding’s marriage with Stella  is unfulfilled due to his own death. I believe that the fact that both stories include these unfulfilled marriages resulting from death and lack the presence of whiteness reveals Hurston’s belief that the institution of marriage is inherently flawed because it is a white Christian invention. John Redding’s marriage acts only as a restricting force in his life, preventing him on going on a journey across the world. When he decides to both go on his journey and remain married he dies, showing that Hurston believes one cannot be free to choose their own path under the constricting force of marriage. Emma’s wait to be married to John in Color Struck shows a similar issue. Emma does not follow new ideas such as interracial marriage because she is bogged down in traditional thinking, which leads her to wait in sadness for John to marry her for twenty years. The traditional Christian ideas of marriage hold both John Redding and Emma from living adventurously, which causes the mood of sadness at the end of both stories.

The sad endings of these stories are a result of the black characters’ inability to live within the confines of Christian marriage, an institution founded by whites. I believe the lack of whiteness in both stories then furthers the ridiculousness of the restrictive ideas of Christian marriage. The African American adoption of the white ideas of marriage seems unnatural in both stories. The queerness and exploratory nature of John Redding contrasts with the simplicity and dullness of marriage. Emma’s life as a single mother contrasts with traditional patriarchal ideas that come with being in a Christian marriage. Being happily married does not feel like the right ending for John Redding or Emma because Hurston is not comfortable with the idea of marriage itself. The reason there is a failed marriage at the end of both stories is because the institution acts as a white intrusion on Hurston’s vision of black society, preventing that very society from reaching bliss.