Study Guide

Serena Religion

By Ron Rash

Religion

"The only signs you need to follow is in the Bible," McIntyre said. (5.10)

As it turns out, you actually need to follow signs about dangerous stuff like dynamite and such, too, but McIntyre's point is still the same. He believes wholeheartedly in the Bible and strives to obey it as much as he can.

"And darkness. You can't see it no more than you can see air, but when it's all around you sure enough know it." (5.47)

The workers believe that there's a palpable darkness around them once Serena comes to town. Some of this is based on gender roles (swing by the "Gender" page in this section), but there are also religious influences in there, too.

Mrs. Sorrels just stared at her as if she wasn't worth the bother of replying to. It was Cora Pinson who spoke. "I don't sit with whores." The two women lifted up their plates and turned their backs to Rachel as they moved to another table. (13.5)

Rachel has a tough audience at the camp—no one wants to associate with her after she's knocked up. We get that pre-marital pregnancy goes against the Bible and all, but we can't help but feel that they're being a little harsh. What about the bit about loving thy neighbor?

"There's a true manifestation of the godly," Wilkie said admiringly. "Such an image gave the Greeks and Romans their deities. Gaze upon her, Reverend. She'll never be crucified by the rabble." (14.7)

Wilkie says this about Serena but the Reverend says this is blasphemy. The Reverend is always putting in his two cents about how disrespectful the upper classes are about religion, and in this case, we're inclined to agree with him.

"We let Bolick hold evening services around Christmas and New Year's," Pemberton said. "I find it worth a few dollars of electricity to keep the workers Godly, though I will get a less bothersome camp preacher next time." Harris nodded. "A great business investment, religion. I'll take it over government bonds anytime." (17.24)

How generous of him. Pemberton thinks that religion is helpful for the workers, but he doesn't attend the services himself. Is this just a classist attitude? Does he think he's too good for religion? Why?

The men went into the back of the hall, their boot steps resonant on the puncheon floor. Workers and their families filled the benches set before the long wooden tables, women and children in front, men in the rear. Reverend Bolick stood behind two nailed-together vegetable crates that raised a rickety altar. Laid upon it was a huge leather-bound Bible, wide pages sprawling off both sides of the wood. (17.36)

Pemberton goes into the church service and takes out the cook and server so they can make Serena some food. Yeesh—no wonder the reverend doesn't care for him. Pemberton clearly thinks church is a waste of time, but he should at least respect other people's decision to participate.

"From the book of Obadiah," Reverend Bolick said, and began reading. "The pride of thine heart hath deceived thee, thou that dwellest in the cleft of the rock, whose habitation is high, that saith in his heart, who shall bring me down."

Harris smiled. "I believe the right reverend is addressing us." (17.48-49)

He's a clever one, that Reverend. He knows how to use his sermons to make a dig at Pemberton and Harris. Can you blame him? They are disrupting his service, and they never attend. Yet it also shows us how snarky and righteous some religious practices can be.

Still others carried Bibles and read them with great attentiveness to show they were not blackguards or reds but Godly men. Some bore tattered pieces of paper testifying to their talent and reliability as loggers or discharge papers for military service, and all brought with them stories of hungry children and siblings, sick parents and sick wives that Campbell listened to with sympathy, though how much such stories influenced his choices none of the workers could discern. (21.1)

The Great Depression is in full swing, so we expect a bunch of people to be out of work. What's interesting about this passage, though, is the fact that so many of them use the Bible as a way of showing off. It's like saying, "hey you can trust me, I have a Bible." We're not sure if it works, but enough people are doing it for it to be a trend.

"Makes you think God glances this way every once in a while." (35.14)

When the workers learn that Rachel and Jacob got to safety, one of them comments that God must be watching out for them. Sure, we can get behind that. But then what about others who die? Does that mean God isn't looking out for them? Seems like a pretty dreary belief system if that's the case.

"I think this is what the end of the world will be like," McIntyre said, and none among them raised his voice to disagree. (35.43)

Leave it to McIntyre to end on a religious note. On the one hand, we think his comments are added for comic relief, but on the other, we can't help but notice how it is the end of the world for some of the characters. Makes you wonder if the guy has a point after all…