Study Guide

Alligator Bayou Religion

By Donna Jo Napoli


"Thank the Lord." Carlo closes his eyes. He makes the sign of the cross and ends with prayer hands shaking toward the ceiling. When he opens his eyes again, they're wet and bright. "I'm counting on you. Understand?" (2.58)

In this Catholic household, God is referenced in many casual ways, like when Carlo is exasperated with Calogero.

"Don't they teach you hope in school?" I ask. "A church school and no hope? Baptists got it all wrong." (4.27)

Calo's just being cheeky here, trying to flirt a bit with his favorite girl, but it also implies an ancient rivalry between religions and the critiques they have.

[…] I would never set foot in a Baptist church, for the sake of my dead mama's spirit, which is as Catholic as spirits get. (4.31)

This is another example of religious identity being closely connected to a sense of loyalty to family. Does it kind of seem like Calo has blinders on when it comes to religion? Like he acts out of principle instead of thinking for himself?

San Antonio is the saint you call upon to help you find lost things. I never prayed to him for a missing person though. (5.5)

In Catholicism, everything that happens can be explained through the religion, and praying for each thing that seems out of control is part of this.

"Goat go where goat go. Is nature. Is how God want. Who can prevent?" Francesco shrugs. "Not me." (5.56)

Ha. Good excuse Francesco. Do you think he believes what he's saying here, or invoking God for other reasons? Remember—he's talking to Dr. Hodge.

Rosario sits beside me. He whispers, "I like the service outside. And just once a month. Not like in Sicily where the women dragged us to church every week." (7.7)

Calo doesn't find this very funny, but we appreciate it because it shows that no matter how fiercely dedicated to religious identity people are, pretty much everyone still doesn't feel like going to church sometimes. Does your teacher ever let you have class outside? If they do, isn't always just a bit more fun? We think Rosario's having the same reaction here.

"Help me San Giuseppe," mumbles Cirone in Sicilian. "Don't let me die a miserable death. Spare me and I'll pray to you every day. Please, San Giuseppe, please." (9.148)

This sounds like a pretty good deal, but it turns out to be unnecessary because his foot only has a minor injury.

I'm Catholic, so I know the world is full of miracles and mysteries, but I don't believe that at night animals turn into talking people and alligators have mystical powers. (12.52)

Each culture has its own origin story, which means each of these stories is just as valid and real as any others—it's just a matter of which you believe in.

His voice breaks. He presses his lips together: "Don't let them put blinders on you: travel."

First, Miss Clarrie, and now Frank Raymond. Maybe travel is the religion of all teachers. (22.89-90)

Religion is another word for belief in a set of principles. Do teachers share a common religion?

He keeps jerking his right shoulder forward, pulling against the rope on his hands. And I know, I just know, he wants to make the sign of the cross. (25.16)

At the end of life, in this final horrible moment when he knows he is going to die, it is sad—and pretty cruel—that he can't feel perform his religious ritual.

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