Dust Tracks on a Road Essay - Critical Context (Masterplots II: African American Literature)

Zora Neale Hurston

Critical Context (Masterplots II: African American Literature)

Like Hurston’s fiction and folklore, Dust Tracks on a Road represents a synthesis of traditions, borrowing from the Euro-American tradition of autobiography popularized by Benjamin Franklin and the African American tradition of autobiography that commences with Harriet Jacobs, Frederick Douglass, and Booker T. Washington. Like many works in the former tradition, it is the story of one determined individual’s success; like many in the latter, it reflects a struggle for voice and authorial control. Reflecting what Zora herself most appreciated in black culture, it contains stories that are “embroidered truths,” whose contents are shaped by the telling as much as by the events described.

Dust Tracks on a Road is of special historical significance because it provides a look at one of the most important and controversial figures in the Harlem Renaissance. The book’s second edition is especially interesting because it contains the three chapters that were omitted from the original publication in 1942. In “Seeing the World as It Is,” Zora expresses strong anti-American sentiment. She argues that American international politics are riddled with hypocrisy: Imperialism cannot be right when it is enacted by the United States and wrong when enacted by others. This chapter and the unrevised chapter “My People, My People” serve as powerful reminders of the restrictions that impeded Hurston’s writings. Whether such restrictions came from her editors, her “godmother,” or “Papa Franz,” Boas Hurston’s freedom to say what she thought was always subject to outside intervention. Her dependency on these people made compromise an unpleasant necessity.