Jonah's Gourd Vine (novel, 1934)
 
 

Jonah's Gourd Vine (novel, 1934)
Zora Neale Hurston

 


Jonah's Gourd Vine (novel, 1934)
Zora Neale Hurston

Written in only three to four months in 1934, Jonah's Gourd Vine is the first novel published by acclaimed anthropologist, writer, and Harlem Renaissance personality Zora Neale Hurston. The book, based loosely on her parents' lives (but not really about them), explores the life and consciousness of John Pearson and his relationship with his wife Lucy Potts and other women in the town. Pearson was depicted as a minister in a small black Florida town, Eatonville, which in reality was Hurston's hometown.

The museum's copy of the book is a first edition, with its original book jacket and an introduction by Fanny Hurst. (In her early years as a student and writer in New York City, Hurston worked as an assistant to Hurst, a writer and activist.)

By the time she wrote her novel, Zora Neale Hurston (1901-1960) was already an established, widely traveled social anthropologist and field observer. She was a leading light in the Harlem Renaissance movement in black arts and literature from the mid-1920s through the 1930s. A graduate of Barnard College and Columbia University as an anthropologist who studied under the renowned professor Franz Boas, Hurston led field trips to the South to record African American music for the Library of Congress and to do research for the New Deal-era state guide of Florida. In her writings-novels, essays, plays, reports-she drew heavily on her life in Eatonville, Florida, and on the evidence she collected of Southern African American life and culture. She preserved the historical evidence of oral traditions: songs, music, sermons, tales, stories, and oral history interviews. Her keen observations and her respect for the way people actually talked and lived infused Hurston's work with power, authenticity, and liveliness. In Hurston's work one hears and feels the authentic voice, power, and sensibilities of people and places. In this novel, she used events from her childhood and the sermons she heard as a preacher's daughter to give structure and texture to this novel.

Read the biblical scripture of Jonah 4:6-10. Zora Neale Hurston used this passage as the origin of the novel's title. She saw the life and position of the lead character John Pearson as the gourd vine and his weaknesses and destructive tendencies as the worm that destroyed the vine.