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What was Zora Neal Hurtson's purpose/main idea in her essay "How it feels to be...

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swimma-logan | Student, College Freshman | Valedictorian

Posted January 7, 2010 at 8:46 PM via web

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What was Zora Neal Hurtson's purpose/main idea in her essay "How it feels to be coloured me"?

I need to write roughly a page on this, and I was silly and waited until today...it's due around noon -.- help?!?

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James Kelley | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted January 7, 2010 at 11:38 PM (Answer #1)

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I think that my answer may be coming too late, but I'll still give it a shot...

Zora Neale Hurston's 1928 short prose piece (I'm not sure that it's a formal essay, but there's nothing wrong with calling it one!) "How It Feels to be Colored Me" seems to me to be concerned mostly with her understanding of what it means to be black person and an artist in a country largely dominated by white people. I've read the piece a number of times and still struggle to make complete sense of it.

This piece takes on a number of stereotypes about race, for example. For example, it open with a very interesting statement: "... I am the only Negro in the United States whose grandfather on the mother's side was not an Indian chief." This statement means a lot more to me after having watched a TV special hosted by Henry Louis Gates Jr. that showed that many black Americans falsely believe that they have Native American ancestry. Genetic testing of the famous black people on the show (I remember Chris Rock taking part, for example) showed that they had no markers of such ancestry, yet their families told stories that claimed the opposite. The show discussed why black Americans might have desired to have Indian blood; for example, the Native Americans in several parts of the country actively resisted white domination for years. Perhaps the Indians, the host and guests speculated, were doing what the black people (for the most part) only wished they could do. (See the second link below.)

She also may be challenging the long-lived literary stereotypes of the tragic mulatto or tormented black artist when she writes "But I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes."

Hurston also writes (c, paragraphs 4-5) about how racial identity is something we discover through interaction with other, different people and that rabid racism against blacks(see her observations about her "white neighbor") is harmful to whites as well.

Overall, the piece seems to me to express the enthusiasm and self-confident swagger that matches Hurston's public demeanor.

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