I was thinking about my initial reading of John Redding Goes to Sea and how I saw John as a Christ figure. When reading, the description of John Redding’s body floating in the water stood out to me as reflecting the death of Jesus because of the positioning of his body, his torn clothes, and his blood mixing in with the water. In our discussion on Wednesday, I couldn’t come up with a reason for why I picked out this image and asked a question regarding Christianity and Biblical references. I think part of the reason is that I have been trained in past classes to look for the Christ figure while reading, since it has been brought up in so many discussions I have had before. During my freshman year of high school, Simon from Lord of the Flies was identified as a Christ figure. Same with Santiago from Old Man and The Sea my sophomore year and Jim Casy from Grapes of Wrath my junior year of high school. Just a few weeks ago in my American Lit class, one of my classmates brought up the question of whether Benjy from The Sound and the Fury could be seen as a Christ figure. Christ figures have popped up everywhere for me in my past English classes, which is why it is something I look for when reading.
There’s a danger, I think, that comes with searching for Christ figures in literature. They are usually the character in the story that makes sacrifices, is good with children, and/or experiences physical suffering. By assigning these characters the title of the Christ figure, readers accentuate the importance and power of the character’s sacrifices and morality. The issue with this – it excludes characters in literature who are women, and it excludes non-Christian readers, or those who have no exposure to the Christian religion, from a full reading of the text and the author’s intention in the crafting of a character.
Turning to Zora Neale Hurston, we discussed on Monday the lack of reverence for religion in Mules and Men. This can be seen in stories like the tale of why the church split, as Charlie explains that Christ glued together eleven rocks to build his church on. Hurston’s folklore involved a satire of Christianity as the religion of colonialism, which was imposed on African Americans who were deemed “never ready” to accept religion. Taking this point from our Mules and Men discussion, I identified John Redding as a possible Christ figure in Wednesday’s reading due to the heavy influence religion, or the critique and satire of it, had in other works of Hurston’s. Christianity plays an important role in the history and folklore that Hurston is attempting to preserve and share through her writing.
So, I guess the question I am asking of myself and others here is what is the danger of automatically identifying good male characters as Christ figures in literature? How can we reconcile this with the intention of authors and the influence Christianity has on so many works of literature? I know this is a lot broader than the specific readings we discussed this week, but the question of why so many of us posed questions about Christianity really stuck with me. Why do we (I) instinctively read this way?