First published in the fall of 1926 in the Messenger magazine, "The Eatonville Anthology" is one of Zora Neale Hurston's most important and interesting short stories because of its design, content, and use of authentic dialect. Hurston's collection of vignettes in "The Eatonville Anthology" do not conform to the narrative pattern that most readers expect from a work of short fiction Hurston's story is a collection of short profiles and anecdotes about a cast of characters who inhabit a small African-American community in central Florida during the early decades of the twentieth century. Together these individual voices are a powerful portrayal of black culture at a time when blacks were largely subsumed by the dominant white culture.
When "The Eatonville Anthology" was published, its design would have been familiar to readers of Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology (1915), which was the first of its kind in American literature. Masters' Anthology is a collection of poetic monologues, or epigrams, by former inhabitants of an area in central Illinois. Hurston makes a direct literary allusion to Masters' work with her use of the word "anthology" in the title of her narrative and by composing the chapters of brief, dialect-filled stories about residents of a small Florida town that exists on the outskirts of Orlando. Hurston's "Anthology" is recognized as an important early twentieth-century work for its blend of authentic folklore and fiction.
Hurston's "The Eatonville Anthology" is comprised of fourteen short sketches which offer humorous commentary on lives of residents in Eatonville, Florida. Several characters, such as Joe Clarke, owner of the general store and Eatonville's mayor and postmaster, and Elijah Moseley, appear in a number of the segments while many other characters appear only once.
In the first segment entitled "The Pleading Woman,'' Mrs. Tony Roberts begs for food for her family. First she begs for meat from Mr. Clarke who is annoyed, because he knows that her husband is a good provider and she does not need to beg. She then visits various homes until she has collected everything she wants for the day. Apparently, Mrs. Roberts is never satisfied with what she is given. The narrator explains that the next day her begging continues.
In "Turpentine Love," Jim Merchant's love for his wife endures, explains the narrator, despite the fact that she has had all her teeth out. When they were courting, the fact that she was "subject to fits... didn't cool his love" either. One Sunday Mrs. Merchant's mother tries to stop one of her daughter's fits by giving her a dose of turpentine and accidentally spills some in her eye. Somehow this cures her fits, and she never has another one.
In the unfilled Segment III, Becky Moore has "eleven children of assorted colors and sizes." The narrator pokes fun at Becky, claiming that the fact that Becky's children are fatherless is completely the men's fault, since she ' 'has never stopped any of the fathers of her children from proposing."
Segment IV, "Tippy," focuses on "the most interesting member" of Sykes Jones's family, the dog. Tippy has been sentenced to death several times for a variety of food theft crimes. Despite these threats, he manages to remain skinny, alive, and friendly.
In Segment V, "The Way of a Man with a Train," Old Man Anderson lives in the country and has no interest in seeing a train. "Patronage and ridicule" finally force him to drive his horse and wagon into the woods beside the railroad to wait for a train. He secures his horse far from the tracks where it will be safe. When the train finally comes "thundering over the trestle spurting smoke," Old Man Anderson becomes so frightened that he drives away, damaging his wagon extensively.
Segment VI is entitled "Coon Taylor." Coon Taylor is said to have never done any real stealing, except for chickens, watermelons, and muskmelons. No one has ever managed to catch Coon stealing, but Joe Clarke decides to try. During the first attempt, Joe...
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