“John Redding Goes to Sea” Summary by Zora Neale Hurston

John Redding Goes to Sea Summary by Zora Neale Hurston
“John Redding Goes to Sea” Summary

“John Redding Goes to Sea” is a 1921 short story by Zora Neale Hurston, the first one she ever had published. It’s about the wanderlust experienced by John Redding, first as a boy and then as a young man, who has always wanted to go to sea. Here’s a summary of “John Redding Goes to Sea”.

John Redding Goes to Sea” Summary

In his village in the Florida woods, John Redding, a ten-year-old black boy, is considered an unusual child. His mother thinks he’s got a spell on him; his father, Alfred, doesn’t like hearing that foolishness, or having it said in front of John.

The St. Johns River flows close to his home. He likes to throw sticks in it and watch them float away, and he’d like to follow them. He daydreams about traveling to the horizon. Sometimes the sticks get caught in the weeds and John gets upset with them for preventing his “ships” from sailing away. His father tells him not to take it too hard; sometimes people get held back the same way. He had dreams of traveling himself but he never did.

John says he’s going to travel farther than any of his sticks when he grows up. He imagines his future while his father thinks of his past as they walk home. The father, Alfred, tells his wife, Matty, that John wants to go to sea when he’s older and he’ll probably let him. She doesn’t want the boy encouraged along those lines.

They argue again about the “spell” on John. Aldred thinks it’s natural for a man to want to see the world. John can travel and then tell him about what he saw. Matty weeps in self-pity.

John grows up attending the village school and then the high school in the county seat. Alfred continues to support John’s ambitions. Matty doesn’t understand why he’d want to go anywhere. Most of the villagers never go farther than a few miles from home.

The villagers are interested in John’s plans. Some think he feels above them and others agree he’s under a spell. They get updates from Alfred. He’s holding off a bit because of Matty. He’s tried to get her to accept his dreams, but she can’t.

Matty wants John to marry and teach at the school. He feels he must leave. She won’t give her consent, but he says he has to go anyway. He plans to leave next year.

Things settle down for a while. John helps Alfred on the farm and reads at night.

Unexpectedly, John marries a beautiful woman, Stella Kanty, after a three week courtship. Matty weeps with happiness. Springtime is a riot of beautiful colors.

“John Redding Goes to Sea” Summary, Cont’d

John soon feels the old pull. He looks down the road and the river, and becomes pensive. Stella cries and pouts. One day, John tells her he wants to go for a while, explaining his longing. She can stay with his parents and they’ll be happy when he comes back. Stella won’t hear of it. She and Matty cry together until Alfred gets involved. They argue about John’s desires again.

Returning home, John tells his mother he’s going to join the Navy and see the world. They argue it, with Matty, incensed, saying she never wants him to come back if he goes, not even if she dies.

Alfred and John go down to the river and sit on a log. Alfred says some ships get caught in the weeds. John feels beaten by his mother’s resistance. He says he’ll wait another year but then he has to go. Alfred puts his arm around John but quickly removes it, embarrassed. John explains the strong desire he feels to travel. Alfred feels it too, but he can’t express himself the way John can.

After a quiet supper, John and Alfred sit in the front yard, while Matty and Stella sit on the porch. At about nine o’clock, a car speeds up to the gate. It’s Mr. Hill, a white man who’s building a bridge over the river. He’s anxiously looking for extra workers to weather-proof the bridge. There’s a bad rain coming that could destroy it. John agrees to go help. He changes clothes and says goodbye to Matty and Stella, but they’re reserved.

The women go inside while Alfred sits and smokes a while. When the breeze picks up, he goes in and fastens the doors and windows. They all sit around the kitchen table while the winds shakes the house. They sit silently, the women resentful and afraid, and Alfred in pity for his son.

An owl lands on the roof and makes a doleful sound, which everyone takes as a bad sign, even Alfred. Stella throws salt into the lamp, Matty turns her dress inside out, and Alfred turns out a sock.

The wind rages and the owl cries out until about three in the morning. The rain starts pouring and leaks into the house.

John Redding Goes to Sea Summary by Zora Neale Hurston
“John Redding Goes to Sea” Summary Continued

At daybreak, the sun is out and Alfred heads for the bridge. The usually slow St. Johns River has risen twelve feet and rushes to sea. It has swept away houses, trees and animals as well as the steel framework for the new bridge. A siren sounds and all the men are gathered.

The construction crew are being helped out of the water. Several are dead and others wounded. Alfred can’t find John and no one has seen him. Matty and Stella arrive. Fred Mimms, one of the crew, explains what happened. They got caught out on the bridge and derrick while the wind raged and the rain poured. They all prayed and sang. The bridge was eventually felled when three big pine trees were swept into it. He doesn’t know where John is.

At that moment, everyone seems to spot John at the same time. There’s a man floating on his back out on a log. His overalls are nearly torn off and he has a wound on his left side that’s visible from shore.

The women are hysterical. Alfred is still and a single tear falls from his face. Matty screams for the rescue crew to retrieve her son’s body. Alfred stops them; his boy wanted to go to sea and now he will. His body floats away.

“Out on the bosom of the river, bobbing up and down as if waving goodbye, piloting his little craft on the shining river road, John Redding floated away toward Jacksonville, the sea, the wide world—at last.”

I hope this summary of “John Redding Goes to Sea” by Zora Neale Hurston was helpful.