Spirituality Through Nature: Analyzing Hurston's Argument for Pantheism

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In Dust Tracks on a Road, Zora Neale Hurston explains her religious ideology: “It is futile for me to seek the face of, and fear, an accusing God withdrawn somewhere beyond the stars in space” (Dust Tracks on a Road 323), further explaining, “the springing of the yellow line of morning out of the misty deep of dawn is glory enough for me” (279). Hurston’s confidence in nature’s spirituality borders on pantheism, especially regarding her separation from organized religion. A cultural anthropologist in the Harlem Renaissance period, Hurston studied cultures in the Caribbean and the American south. Comparing the nature-oriented Caribbean culture with the Christian African-American culture, Hurston’s favoring for the former is evident in her novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, where her use of nature symbolism and imagery connect to spirituality and religion. Hurston, as illustrated in her self-declared ideologies, disputes the validity of organized religion, preferring to find spirituality in nature. She argues mirroring nature rather than conquering it achieves religious fulfillment. Not contending the existence of God or salvation, she merely believes that piety is better reached by mirroring what she deems as God’s creations. Only a true connection to nature leads to religious fulfillment, representing both a strong connection to God and salvation. Hurston uses religious allusions in the description of nature to illuminate affinity with nature as a medium for religious fulfillment, encouraging African Americans in the Harlem Renaissance period to experience natural spirituality rather than organized religion.

Hurston devotes much of the second chapter to Janie’s experience beneath a pear tree. Janie’s revelation that the pear ...

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...elief: Nature is God. Through the pear-tree model and its contrasting flood, Hurston presents an argument against traditional, western religious beliefs. She views African Americans captivated by western religion as self-enforced slavery. Their Eyes Were Watching God represents Hurston’s call for African Americans to gain spirituality in nature rather than Church, in an attempt to pull the African American community closer to God. During the Harlem Renaissance, African-Americans were almost entirely Christian. The mere conceptualization of self-questioning religious beliefs was absurd, partially leading to the failure of Hurston’s novel to gain general acknowledgment. Hurston’s use of the pear-tree model and the flood acts as a (largely unsuccessful) missionary aimed at African Americans, preaching that nature leads to religious fulfillment, and ultimately salvation.

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