Columbian Exchange

Ramy Safwat Gadalla

Can a Person’s Ego and Living a Double-Life, Away from Faith, Ultimately End with Death?

In Visitation of Spirits by Rendall Kenan, Horace, a 16-year-old boy, has a view that he is the Great Black Hope and feels that he carries the burden of saving his race. He also believes in heaven and spirits. Raised in a Catholic environment, Horace’s family, the Greene-Cross, is deeply rooted in the Catholic Church’s rituals ever since their grandfather Thomas Cross bought the land, which later was turned into the Tims Creek First Baptist Church. During the course of the novel, we notice two factors influencing Horace’s decisions, his family and ego, and they both push him far away from the Catholic faith he is brought up on: his family because they are superficial and hypocritical and his ego because it makes him falter in the face of challenge. This paper sheds light on Horace family's fallback from the Catholic principals they claim to hold fast to and the lack of self-awareness of their shortcomings, and how all of that, met with Horace’s double-life and ego, contribute to him not being grounded in either Catholic principals, or otherwise a stronger character foundation.

Horace family’s superficiality sways him away from being independent. Grandmother Retha is superficial because she does everything for Horace, instead of letting him rely on himself. “Her hands were the beginning and in the beginning were her hands… Nothing was made without her hands” (Kenan 72). As a result, Horace does not learn early-on how to make small decisions that would lead to self-trust and him standing in the face of tough challenges. This lack of self-confidence leads him to even undermine the inner voice of his spirit which is the last voice calling for redeeming his life, and he refuses to leave the gun (235). This shows how much his decision-making to do what he knows to be right is weakened; he chooses to escape from life’s challenges by killing himself, a principal that directly opposes the Catholic faith. Therefore, Retha sways Horace away from the faith when pampering him because he is ultimately reluctant to choose life, a decision that aligns with his faith.

Not only is the Cross’s family superficiality manifested in not teaching Horace to be independent but also in not instilling in him a strong foundation for the Catholicism. The Cross’s family superficiality is also reflected when Great Aunt Jonnie Mae stresses on Horace to get “A”s and “A+”s but does not instill in him a strong foundation for practicing Catholicism. The Bible commands its believers to lay strong belief systems for themselves by recalling the name of Jesus and his teachings at the start of their daily tasks (New International Version, 1 Cor. 3.11). Because Horace does not practice this, his foundation for faith is not laid strongly. As a result when his grades slip, he loses hope in God and falters: "Horace what happened to you... C in trig. D in Spanish" (240). If he had a strong belief in God and his grades slip, he would have faith and would resolve to exert his effort to perform well in the future. This shows how much Horace becomes emotionally tied to grades because of his Great Aunt’s instruction; yet he is superficial when it comes to laying a strong foundation for believing in God. Even at the end of his life when he turns to the Bible and explains it in his own way, thinking that he will ask the spirits to transform him into an animal (240) when, in reality, he wants to escape from life. Therefore Jonnie Mae sways Horace away from the faith when stressing on him to get As and A+ but not laying a strong foundation in the faith because he is ultimately attached to grades and loses hope in his faith.

Not only does the Cross family influence Horace with their superficiality but also with their hypocrisy. Horace’s Aunts are hypocritical because although they are mothers of the church, they tell Horace to hate white people: "If one hits you ... haul off and smack ... him”, his Aunt Rachel instructs him (90). This contradicts the Bible’s commandements, which they hear at the church, “And though ... I understand all mysteries ... and have not charity [love], I am nothing” (120). Horace in turn hates a white boy, with whom he makes a fight (90). He also hates himself; “You actually hate me,” his soul tells him after he shoots himself (235). This shows how Horace’s Aunts’ behavior sways Horace away from the faith by influencing him to hate others as well as himself.

Horace’s grandfather, Zeke also influences him to be hypocritical by hating. Zeke is hypocritical because he hates and condemns the Stone family, and he later tells Horace not to condemn them (147). Zeke’s behavior instills in Horace hate for others, like Gideon whom he calls, “An abomination” (100). Therefore, Zeke teaches Horace to be hypocritical by influencing him to hate Gideon.

Not only does the Cross family drive Horace away from faith by their superficiality and hypocrisy, but also because they do not confess to have committed any mistakes. Mae and Zeke do not confess their shortcomings when they severely condemn Horace for sinning; they unfortunately do not see that his behavior is a minor reflection of their actions and upbringing. They blame him for sinning when he returns home with an earring: “You work. You talk. You try your darnest, and they just go astray,” Zeke says about Horace (187). However, Zeke and Mae overlook the deviation from the faith they have committed when taking their brother Jethro’s land and hating and condemning his wife Ruth for his death and binge drinking (197). Zeke calls Ruth, “evil” (194). Had Zeke and Mae realized their own hateful attitude, they would have talked to Horace with a more parental tone. Also Horace would have listened to them rather than get depressed and confused. Therefore, the Cross family drive Horace to deviate from faith when they do not present a good example and even realize their own sins but, instead, condemn him as a sinner.

The thematic features of text, as well as the formal features show that Horace’s family’s behavior influences him to deviate from the faith. The commentary in the ADVENT section also shows the society’s superficiality through the imagery involved in describing the hog killing. Gossiping and bragging carry along hatred and lying. The imagery of women gossiping, their “fingers deft in sling[ing] the nasty grey” matter from the hogs’ intestines, and the men bragging exemplify the general level of hatred and lying (7). Also the words “slings” and “nasty” show how hatred and lying are violent and abhorrent. Therefore, the commentary in the ADVENT section shows that the gossiping and bragging in Tims Creek’s society involve hate and lying and these could potentially sway Horace away from the faith that should base on charity. Similarly, the REQUIEM section shows that the townsmen are continuing to do the things that harm them. The doctor advises Zeke to quit tobacco (23). Yet, tobacco is still thriving in Tims Creek (256). The narrator explains, furthermore, that the industry has become more productive than before by using machines that require no men. Tobacco will make townsmen harm their health, which is against the Bible’s teachings: that believers should be faithful to their health (Matt. 25.14-28). Therefore, the REQUIEM section shows that people are carrying on with bad habits that harm their faith and wellbeing. Together the ADVENT and REQUIEM sections show that people are practicing hatred and lying and passing these qualities across generations. They do not break the surface to search deeply for their mistakes and correct them.

Another formal feature that shows how the author’s aim is to expose the hatred in the Cross family is the conversation between Zeke and Jimmy. Throughout the novel, the events are intermittent to the trip that Zeke, Ruth, and Jimmy are taking to visit their ailing relative Asa in the hospital. At the end of the book, after they finish the trip, Jimmy and Zeke have a personal conversation, where Jimmy reproaches Zeke for his compassionlessness in clashing with Aunt Ruth. Uncle Zeke tells Jimmy "you talk about compassion a lot. Know what it means?" Jimmy replies, it is to not hold grudges. Zeke agrees that compassion is not to hold grudges: "It takes right smart of a man to forgive and I'll tell you boy. I don't know if this old man is man enough. Strong enough, to walk to way I ought" (206). Therefore the presence of the intimate conversation on love between Jimmy and Zeke towards the end of the novel shows that it has been the author’s aim to expose the hypocrisy in the Cross family who are being hateful and condemning each other.

Not only does the Cross family’s superficiality, hypocrisy, and lack of confessing their mistakes hurt Horace causing him to deviate from the faith, but so also does Horace’s ego. Horace’s family brings him up, instilling in him the belief that he is the Great Black Hope (13). This dream is centered on him rising up to their standards that are to practice Catholicism and achieve high grades. However, Horace engages in many loveless liaisons that conflict with his faith (240). His grades also slip. If he is modest, however, he will make up his mind to leave what has passed and change. But his ego cannot let him forgive himself: “No more ghosts, no more sin, no more, no more” (231). Therefore, the pride that is supposed to encourage Horace turns against him and sways him away from the faith, pushing him to take his life when he lives a double life.

Not only does Horace's ego prevent him from forgiving himself but also from forgiving his four white friends who have tricked him. He believes that they have let him into their group to seem superior given the general racial bias in the town (237). His friends' treason is one of the factors influencing him to take his life (241). Horace's ego makes him deviate because he cannot forgive his friends and start a new beginning.

Horace's case shows an instructive example of the triad effect of the family that falls into sin, that does not confess its sins to change for the better, and the effect of the ego on a person who is living a double life. Horace's family gives him the confidence that he is the Great Black Hope. They also set standards for him, like getting "A"s and "A+"s. But they are superficial, as they do not set him strongly in the faith and do not teach him to make decisions. So he does not take the decision he believes in when it comes to choosing between life and death. They are hypocritical because they teach him to hate, so he hates himself and others. They do not confess their mistakes to correct their shortcomings, so he does not listen to them. Horace, on the other hand, is not remaining faithful to Catholicism’s doctrines; he is living a double-life; neither is he forgiving himself for his sins and shortcomings in education, nor his friends for acting superior over him; being egotistic, he eventually strays far away from the Catholic faith and decides to give up. He does it in a manner that equates the amount of pride he originally has. He gives up in the most severe form, taking away his life. But, could he still have decided to live a single life despite his family’s hypocrisy and superficiality?

Works Cited

Kenan, Rendall. Visitation of Spirits. New York: Vintage Books, 1989. Print.

New International Version. [Colorado Springs]: Biblica, 2011. Web. 5 Aug. 2015.

The interpretation offered in this paper needs to be situated more clearly and motivated more effectively: it does not seem like you are arguing that Kenan views Horace as failing and taking his own life because he fails to live up to the dictates of his faith; instead, this seems to be offered as your interpretation of (i.e., response to) the text. But, if so, one would still like to know what you take to be the text’s own (or Kenan’s) implicit “argument” about Horace and his fate. We never get any sense of the kind of purchase you think your interpretation has on the text, and on other readers of the text.