Zora Neale Hurston’s last published novel, Seraph on the Suwanee, appeared in 1948. It has proven to be her most puzzling and controversial. Most likely because the novel deals predominantly with white southern characters, Robert Bone criticizes the novel as assimilationist, that is, of pandering to white readers (169). Critics such as Robert Hemenway finds Seraph to be less exciting than her previous works (314), and Lillie Howard, in her book Zora Neale Hurston, does not understand what Hurston’s view of sexual relations is in the novel (146). Recent critics such as Ann Rayson, Hazel Carby, and Mary Helen Washington are also puzzled or outright dismissive of Seraph.
John Lowe is one of the few Hurston scholars to give the novel not only a sympathetic but a thorough and provocative reading, noting Hurston’s complex combination of psychology and religion in the love story that drives Seraph (259–340).
The plot of Seraph, as Lowe notes, operates on at least two levels: it follows the psychological development of Arvay Henson, who withdraws into an unhappy private world, and the successful rise of Jim Meserve, her husband, as he makes his way through one industry after another in Florida. The plot is also a journey-narrative, one that tells the story of Arvay Henson’s growing up (argu-