Hurston’s Moses, Man of the Mountain is a novel about greatness, taking as one of its main themes the sacrifices that are required for a people to become great. The novel, despite some excellent passages, falls short of this goal. The conceptual problems Hurston had in putting this work together are summarized in the character of Moses himself. On one hand, she sees him as a hereditary Egyptian, and thus as an African. On the other hand, within the metaphor with which she begins and which allows the Hebrews to talk like African Americans, the Egyptians represent white plantation owners. Thus, Moses’s speech becomes an inconsistent mixture of black dialect and grand biblical rhetoric.
He is, at any rate, a very interesting character. Though there is a story in this novel that Moses is Hebrew, it is not given any credence by Moses himself. This Moses grows up the grandson of a pharaoh and becomes a military leader before he starts to plead for more humane treatment for the Hebrews. When he kills an Egyptian guard for senselessly beating a Hebrew worker, rumors about his birthright start to spread, and he chooses to exile himself to Midian, across the Red Sea.
In Midian, he becomes a student of Jethro, a monotheist priest who teaches Moses magic for twenty years, and whose daughter Zipporah he weds. After learning all he can from Jethro, he travels to Koptos, where he battles and defeats a deathless serpent to consult the Book of Thoth, which teaches him even greater secrets. Afterward, he is ready to return to Egypt to teach the Hebrews Jethro’s religion and demand their release from Pharaoh.
As the leader he becomes in Egypt, Moses is a shrewd politician who is careful not to intimidate Pharaoh too quickly with his series of plagues. He needs the stage that his confrontation with Pharaoh provides in order to establish his credibility with the Hebrews. When he finally does win the Hebrews’ freedom, his job as lawmaker has barely begun, as has his task of making the freed slaves understand how perilous a thing...
(The entire section is 841 words.)