Alive with the same passion and understanding of the human heart that made Their Eyes Were Watching God a classic, Hurston’s Seraph on the Suwanee masterfully explores the evolution of a marriage and the conflicting desires of an unforgettable young woman in search of herself and her place in the world.
Zora Neale Hurston’s Arvay and Jim are part of a Western literary tradition that features a couple overcoming obstacles in order to marry and to stay married—making Seraph on the Suwanee a wonderful addition to any course that focuses on marriage and gender roles. Hurston's novel will help students explore questions such as: Why has marriage been central to so many modern Western narratives? How has the cultural construction of marriage changed over time? What part has literature played in informing as well as reflecting these constructions? What does marriage represent? What are the politics of marriage? Does marriage mean different things to men and women? Are our expectations of marriage realistic?
To give students some historical perspective, the reading list might begin with Stephanie Coontz’s Marriage, A History: How Love Conquered Marriage, which will remind students that marrying for love is a very new development. Next, Shakespeare’s All’s Well that Ends Well could be followed by Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre or Jane Austen’s Emma, Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth, Zora Neale Hurston’s Seraph on the Suwanee, and, to end on a contemporary note, Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain, Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot, or Ben Greenman’s forthcoming novel The Slippage.
The syllabus might also add or substitute the film adaptations for some of these novels, and include films such as George Cukor’s Adam’s Rib and Sam Mendes’s American Beauty.