Bertha is Sykes’s plump mistress, with whom he is openly cheating on Delia. Elijah Moseley calls her a ‘‘big black greasy Mogul’’ (this last word referring to the Muslim rulers of India between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries), a description that connotes some of the white stereotypes and
Zora Neale Hurston
racist caricatures of the time as to what kind of women were attractive to black men. Bertha has picked up a bad reputation in her previous town and carried it to Eatonville; she is bold enough, unlike Sykes’s previous mistresses, to call for him at Delia’s gate. For three months, she has been living in Della Lewis’s disreputable inn, and Delia can tell that Sykes has brought her into their house.
One of the men on the porch of Joe Clarke’s store, Dave mentions that Bertha looks like an alligator when she opens her mouth to laugh. The character of the same name in Hurston’s play Mule Bone (coauthored with Langston Hughes) is described as a ‘‘Dancer, Baptist, soft, happy-go-lucky character, slightly dumb.’’
Joe runs the general store on the main street. His character is based on the real man of the same name who ran the general store during Hurston’s childhood, and the gathering of people on this porch is an important and omnipresent element in much of her fiction. Eatonville residents gathered there to joke and...
(The entire section is 1167 words.)
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