A Modern Representation of Temptation in Randall Kenan’s “Run, Mourner Run”
by Jackson Doeler
Randall Kenan’s short story “Run, Mourner, Run” follows a young man, Dean, as he is tempted into devious acts which leads to the degradation and destruction of his life and future. Many symbols and characterization details represent aspects of biblical mythology, in particular the book of Genesis. The story of Adam & Eve and their subsequent fall from grace is one of the earliest stories of temptation. Their story shows the consequences when someone gives into it. Both Kenan’s work and the story of Adam & Eve mirror each other in plot and theme. It is through these connections that the central theme of temptation in Kenan’s story will be defined.
The original tempter, the serpent lured Adam and Eve into eating the fruit of knowledge, and as a result, their fall from grace. Described as the most mischievous and cunning animal, the snake tricked Adam & Eve into disobeying God’s command. The book of Genesis is the first to introduce the serpent. “Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.” “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:1-3:5).
In Kenan’s story Run, Mourner Run, Percy Terell, the man who propositions Dean into betraying someone he cares for, is the tempter in his story. Percy, just like the serpent whom he is similarly described as, appeals to ignorance inside of Dean, and coerces him into destroying his innocence. “Percy became Percy the cunning, Percy the sly, Percy the conniving” (Kenan 166). The narrators’ initial introduction of Percy describes him in such a manner that evokes thoughts of greed and envy. The color green is often associated with greed, but also with snakes and serpents. “His eyes full of mischief and lies and greed and hate” (Kenan 165). Kenan also reinforces the green imagery in the introduction of Percy with his John Deere hat. The actual deal that Percy offers Dean is what solidifies his position as the tempter. Percy, being a very powerful man in town, acts as if he knows what Dean’s best interest is. He asks for him to put his faith in him rather than in himself. The serpent acts in the same manner. He asks Adam & Eve to put their faith in him rather than in God. The serpent promises Ascension into “knowing” through disobedience and Percy promises Ascension into status. When Percy first propositions Dean with the agreement he asks “Well how would you like a promotion to foreman and a six-thousand-dollar raise” (Kenan 168)? Dean described becoming a foreman as something that people like him do not get to achieve. However, both Dean and Adam & Eve found out that their tempters were lying to them. Rather than receive glory and status, which was what was promised; they received banishment, shunning, and a demotion of status.
While Dean may not be free of sin, He still represents innocence and ignorance in this story, and thus he represents Adam and Eve. Adam has faith in God or at the very least acknowledges his existence. He knows it’s wrong to disobey God’s command and that what he is being asked to do is incredibly sinful. After hearing Percy’s offer, Dean contemplates his decision, saying to himself “I know this a test from the lord and I aint fool enough to go through with it” (Kenan 167). God commands humans to leave their parents, find a companion, and create a life. In Kenan’s story, Dean has this chance with Ray. Dean, who is trapped under the burden of his mother, has the opportunity to break free and create a life with a man he loves. He has the opportunity to fulfill this role that God has set for him. This is the same principle that guided Adam and Eve, God wanted them to procreate and tend to garden. He told them not eat the fruit and through fulfillment of this role, they would forever be in paradise. However, the serpent crept into their life and dangled temptation in front of them.
The concept of original sin, which is found specifically in the New Testament, is evident in Kenan’s story by Ray’s wife. Original sin states that humans, being sons of Adam and daughters of Eve are born into sin. When Adam broke God’s rule, he was cast out and steeped in sin. From that point our humanity was forever altered. This alteration has consequently been passed down and engrained into every member of the human race. Therefore, humanities entire existence must be dedicated to atoning for a sin that we have been grandfathered into. Gloria Brown picks Dean up off the side of the road. This is after Dean has betrayed Ray and been slighted by Percy. Dean has a conversation with Gloria regarding his faith. After he deny’s acknowledging a certain organization, she explains the importance of connecting with God. She explains to Dean “for all have sinned and fallen short of the will of God” (Kenan 190). “For all have sinned,” this is referencing original sin.
Dean has flashbacks to a time when his father was alive, when Dean was very young. These memories were happy and demonstrated Dean’s love for his father. Since Dean’s father’s death dean’s life has been riddled with debauchery. Dean seems unable to resist temptation. Adam and Eve are no different. They were left unsupervised with nothing but verbalized guidance from the past to direct them. Both Dean and Adam & Eve had an absent paternal figure, and it’s in this loss that temptation thrives. Dean’s situation shows humanity’s predisposition to fall victim to temptation as Adam did. Just as our humanity was warped, so is Dean’s life. As a consequence, he has lost everything he worked for. His job, his first real love, and most importantly his self- respect are all gone. Society has cast him out for the destruction he caused.
Adam’s fall from grace has placed a permanent hindrance on humanity. They aren’t born with a neutral morality. Having a weakness to temptation is evident in all types of cultures. Kenan was able to express this with a very irregular character profile. Whether it was intentional or not Kenan was able to modernize it to make them more relatable to the audiance. Adam, Eve, and the snake are always depicted as a white male and female couple and a literal serpent. Kenan expressed the same ideas and concepts with an interracial, homosexual male couple with a significant age difference. He was also able to portray the tempter as a greedy, arrogant businessman. The messages and themes were clear and concise, and Kenan expressed them through mediums that were more familiar to him. Randall Kenan was black gay man, whose story featured characters of the same nature, yet the central theme of temptation is universal. It isn’t required to be black, or gay, or poor like the characters in Run, Mourner Run to understand Kenan’s theme or message.