Covington's Conviction Of Serpent Handling Essay

1067 words - 4 pages

In Salvation on Sand Mountain, the emotional frustrations, cultural hypotheses, and literary images provide insight into the ethics of the author, Dennis Covington. During his dangerous undertakings while submerged in the religious practices of Appalachia, Covington incites anxiety within the reader when discussing worship services involving snakes, and inquisitorial thought when revealing the number of casualties involved, in turn showcasing his own passions and morality. Covington’s rectitude, goodwill, and intelligence all play important roles in revealing his ethos. Subsequently, they also exemplify his argument: No obstacle can conquer one’s religious devotion.

Covington’s intellect boasts a curious ambition to solve the secrets of the Appalachia through factual data and personal inquiries. “Their first church in town burned to the ground” Covington explains, “They suspected arson, but charges were never brought…they moved to other locations…neighbors complained of the noise. Wherever the handlers relocated, tires got slashed and windows broken” (25). By presenting facts about the trouble the snake-handlers dealt with, Covington reveals how steadfast they are in their religious faith. The serpent-handlers’ strong devotion has turned into a tainted reputation for some, such as Glenn Summerford. Curious to hear Glenn’s version of why he was put in jail for ninety-nine years, Covington interviews him. When asked about his wife, Darlene, Summerford simply states that when she was “living right, she drank [poison]” (50). Faced with a lifetime sentence in a jail cell, Summerford shows no remorse, and instead criticizes his wife, whom he attempted to murder, for not living by the word of God. Glenn Summerford’s testimonial is a chilling reminder of how arson, broken windows, slashed tires, and even murder are all petty nuisances that crumble under the weight of the serpent-handlers religious certitude.

Covington’s goodwill enforces the validity of his argument. Through first-hand accounts, he details how the snake-handlers practice such a powerful religion that possesses “pleasure…as well as torment” (78). The strong-willed customs of the serpent-handlers can be traced back to the Scotch-Irish travelers who first appeared in the Appalachia. “They grew their own produce and slaughtered their own livestock. They built their own cabins and furniture. They wove their own clothes, made their own whiskey. They were poor but self-sufficient” (87). This society of hard workers would set the cultural tone for the serpent-handlers, and would create a town filled with individuals willing to die for their beliefs. Not every aspect of the serpent-handler tale is inspirational, and shares a great deal of controversy. While participating in a service, Covington noticed a man “lying spread-eagled on the floor”, he stated. “Half a dozen men prayed over him and laid on hands, now up and running from one end of the sanctuary to the other…twirling, swooning,...

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