Themes and Meanings
Hurston uses the biblical story of Moses and the Hebrews as an allegory representing the oppression of the American black. The identification of the two groups is made clear through the portrayal of the Hebrews: They speak a black dialect, and their diet consists of food that is traditionally associated with Southern blacks: watermelons, cucumbers, and pan-fried fish. In addition, much of what is described concerning the Hebrews before their emancipation is true of blacks before the Civil War. Both groups live in shacks; both groups are whipped to produce more work. The children of both the Hebrews and the blacks are threatened; the Pharaoh orders male babies killed, and the plantation owners often sold the children of slaves. Even the paternalistic attitude is similar; the Egyptians argue, “What would slaves want to be free for anyway? They are being fed and taken care of. What more could they want?” The novel is first a discussion of the slave issue in the American past, but at the same time it comments on the problems that faced the blacks in the 1930’s when, although institutionalized slavery no longer existed, blacks were still victims of discrimination.
The book, while focusing on American blacks, is also a study of the problems associated with emancipation. It is not enough to be rid of shackles, one must also internalize freedom. One must grow into freedom, developing a sense of worth. In Egypt the Hebrews felt that somehow the Egyptians...
(The entire section is 433 words.)