Masterpieces of Women's Literature Dust Tracks on a Road Analysis

In her introduction to the 1991 edition of Dust Tracks on a Road, noted poet and author Maya Angelou states, “It is difficult, if not impossible to find and touch the real Zora Neale Hurston.” Hurston’s autobiography certainly reveals many gaps and silences that raise many questions about her life. According to critic Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Hurston’s narrative has two voices that call attention to the simultaneous existence of two fragmented cultures in the United States—modern American culture and African American culture. The narrative voice of Dust Tracks on a Road at one moment is speaking as one formally educated in the Western European tradition and at the next moment is speaking in African American dialect from the store’s porch in Eatonville, Florida.

The tension between these cultures and voices accounts for several of the seeming contradictions in Hurston’s narrative. For example, Hurston relates the story of the elderly white man who helped bring her into the world and who later became her friend. This “gray-haired white man” told her never to lie, that only “niggers lie and lie.” Hurston claims she understood that her white friend was speaking not of race but of class; however, she later states that her favorite pastime was listening to the “lyin’” sessions that took place on the porch of the local store, and that “anyone whose mouth was cut sideways” was given to lying. In such instances, Hurston’s voice reflects the double consciousness of which W. E. B. Du Bois spoke, a sense of standing outside oneself and viewing oneself with the consciousness of the oppressor. Gates suggests that the “real” Zora Neale Hurston can be found in the silences between these two voices, that she is both and neither. Hurston speaks of standing outside her culture as an observer at an early age. She...

(The entire section is 762 words.)