Hurston, Zora Neale (Short Story Criticism)
Zora Neale Hurston 1891-1960
American novelist, folklorist, short story and nonfiction writer, autobiographer, essayist, playwright, memoirist, and librettist.
The following entry presents criticism of Hurston's short fiction from 1989 through 2001. See also Zora Neale Hurston Drama Criticism, Zora Neale Hurston Criticism (Volume 7), and Zora Neale Hurston Criticism (Volume 30).
Hurston is considered among the foremost writers of the Harlem Renaissance, a literary and artistic movement centered in Harlem, New York, that redefined African American expression during the 1920s and 1930s. In addition to having published four novels, three nonfiction works, and numerous short stories and essays, Hurston is acknowledged as the first modern African American to collect and publish folklore. Her renowned 1935 collection, Mules and Men, is comprised of African American folktales derived from her academic studies and anthropological fieldwork. The book is regarded as an important contribution to American literature.
Hurston was born on January 7, 1891. She was raised in Eatonville, Florida, which was the first incorporated all-Black town in America and became the setting for most of Hurston's fiction. At the age of thirteen Hurston was taken out of school to care for her brother's children. She worked briefly as a maid, and at sixteen was hired as a wardrobe girl for a touring theatrical troupe and traveled the South for eighteen months. Then, while employed as a live-in maid, she enrolled at a high school in Baltimore. She attended Howard University in Washington D.C. from 1923 to 1924 and in 1925 moved to New York City. During this period, Hurston began publishing short stories and establishing friendships with many important Black writers. She studied anthropology at Barnard College and Columbia University with the anthropologist Franz Boas, an experience that profoundly influenced her work. In 1927, together with Langston Hughes and Wallace Thurman, Hurston founded Fire!!, a literary magazine devoted to African American culture. The publication collapsed after its first issue, as a result of financial difficulties. After graduating in 1928, Hurston received a fellowship to do anthropological field research on African American folklore in the South. The data she collected over the next four years, and during subsequent field excursions in Jamaica, Haiti, and Bermuda (1937-38), Florida (1938-39), and Honduras (1946-48), would be used both in her collections of folklore and in her fictional works. In 1948 Hurston, then living in New York, was arrested and charged with committing an immoral act with a ten-year-old boy. The charges were later dropped—Hurston was able to prove that she had been out of the country when the alleged incident took place—but Hurston was devastated by the ensuing publicity. By 1950 Hurston had returned to Florida, where she worked as a cleaning woman in Rivo Alto. Later in the year she moved to Belle Glade, Florida, and attempted to revive her writing career. During the remaining years of her life she worked variously as a newspaper reporter, librarian, and substitute teacher. She suffered a stroke in 1959 and was forced to enter the Saint Lucie County, Florida, Welfare Home, where she died on January 28, 1960.
Major Works of Short Fiction
Hurston's best-known work of short fiction is Mules and Men, a collection of African American folklore and stories gathered from her years traveling the American South living among sharecroppers and itinerant workers. In addition to tales and descriptions of voodoo practices and beliefs, Mules and Men includes work songs, legends, rhymes, and “lies,” all of which contain social and philosophical messages considered essential to survival in a racist society. Hurston categorized her findings in Mules and Men under such themes and motifs as biblical events, moral lessons, variations of plantation stories as delineated in the works of Joel Chandler Harris, and explanations of natural phenomena. The story “Why the Waves Have Whitecaps,” an example of a tale about natural occurrences, relates the tragic consequences of a rivalry between the anthropomorphic figures Mrs. Wind and Mrs. Water. In the tale, Mrs. Water, jealous of her adversary's children, drowns them in the sea, so that whenever Mrs. Wind grieves for her offspring, her sorrowful voice forms white caps on the ocean's waves.
Hurston also wrote several well-received short stories that explore the lives of African Americans. She was especially praised for her recreation of Eatonville's landscape, social customs, and colorful dialect. Hurston published nearly all of her stories in Opportunity, a Black American magazine produced by the National Urban League. “Drenched in Light,” Hurston's earliest story, is an initiation piece centering on a high-spirited girl whose sense of adventure and independence is constantly undermined by her puritanical grandmother. “Sweat” is a tale of hatred and revenge involving a long-suffering washerwoman and her brutal, adulterous husband. Hurston's last story, “The Gilded Six-Bits,” was published in Story magazine in 1933, and is considered her best work of short fiction. The story concerns Joe and Missie May, a newlywed couple whose idyllic marriage is nearly destroyed by Slemmons, a smooth-talking Northerner who operates an ice cream parlor in Eatonville. Impressed with Slemmons's affluence and sophisticated demeanor, Missie May takes him as a lover but quickly discovers that his lifestyle is as fallacious as the “gold” coins and jewelry he used to seduce her. These and other tales were collected in Spunk (1985) and The Complete Stories (1995).
For many years, Hurston's work garnered little critical attention. In the late 1970s, however, critics began to rediscover her short stories and novels, and as a result a diverse body of critical studies has been published on Hurston's life and work. She is now recognized for her significant contribution to American literature. Most of the critical attention to Hurston's short fiction focuses on Mules and Men, which has often been discussed as a work of ethnography and as heavily influenced by the anthropological theories of Boas. Although many critics praise the book's entertaining qualities, some cite an absence of scholarly analysis and comparative notations and an abundance of authorial intrusions. Others have accused Hurston of ignoring racial oppression and exploitation in the South—accusations that recurred throughout her literary career. Commentators have asserted that these and other stories reflect Hurston's attitude toward racism: she refused to focus on the limitations of the Black experience, instead emphasizing the creativity and imagination of African Americans and celebrating her Black cultural heritage. Other critics have explored her depiction of the African American struggle with economic oppression and the relationship between Black men and women in her stories. Recent critics have examined the portrayal of strong African American women in her short fiction, contending that in Hurston's stories, female independence often emasculates African American men and results in domestic violence. In other feminist interpretations of her short fiction, commentators have perceived the key thematic concern of many of her stories to be the successful quest for female empowerment. Her use of female storytellers is regarded as subversive by some critics, in that it challenged conventional roles assigned to Black women, countered stereotypes, and provided a new perspective on the Black experience.
Mules and Men 1935
Spunk: The Selected Stories of Zora Neale Hurston 1985
The Complete Stories 1995
Novels and Stories (novels and stories) 1995
Color Struck (play) 1926
The Great Day (libretto) 1932
Jonah's Gourd Vine (novel) 1934
Their Eyes Were Watching God (novel) 1937
Tell My Horse (nonfiction) 1938; also published as Voodoo Gods: An Inquiry into Native Myths and Magic in Jamaica and Haiti, 1939
Moses, Man of the Mountain (novel) 1939; also published as The Man of the Mountain, 1941
Dust Tracks on a Road (autobiography) 1942
Polk County: A Comedy of Negro Life on a Sawmill Camp [with Dorothy Waring] (play) 1944
Seraph on the Suwanee (novel) 1948
I Love Myself When I Am Laughing … and Then Again When I Am Looking Mean and Impressive: A Zora Neale Hurston Reader (fiction and nonfiction) 1979
The Sanctified Church (essays) 1981
Folklore, Memoirs, and Other Writings (folklore, essays, and memoirs) 1995
Collected Essays (essays) 1998
Every Tongue Got to Confess: Negro Folk Tales from the Gulf States (folklore)...
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SOURCE: Wall, Cheryl A. “Mules and Men and Women: Zora Neale Hurston's Strategies of Narration and Visions of Female Empowerment.” Black American Literature Forum 23, no. 4 (winter 1989): 661-80.
[In the following essay, Wall contends that Hurston's narrative strategy in Mules and Men allows her to represent the ways in which women are relegated to subordinate roles in African American culture.]
Mules and Men, Zora Neale Hurston's first book of folklore, is a widely recognized if underdiscussed classic in Afro-American literature and American anthropology. Unlike many of its predecessors in the field, it presents lore not to patronize or demean Afro-American culture, but to celebrate it. The shift of purpose is encoded in the book's title, with its dual reference to the status accorded blacks from without and the status they assume within their own community. Of course, the title also privileges the male. Analyzing its narrative strategy rather than its ethnographic data, one sees that, despite its title, Mules and Men shares the female focus typical of Zora Hurston's writing. Hurston's narrative strategies allow her to represent, first, the ways in which women are relegated to subordinate roles in the culture she otherwise celebrates and, second, the means by which women in that culture gain access to creative expression and power.
In effect the subtext...
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SOURCE: Wainwright, Mary Katherine. “Subversive Female Folk Tellers in Mules and Men.” In Zora in Florida, edited by Steve Glassman and Kathryn Lee Seidel, pp. 62-75. Orlando: University of Central Florida Press, 1991.
[In the following essay, Wainwright views Hurston's female storytellers in Mules and Men as a way to subvert conventional gender roles and male authority.]
During the Great Depression, Zora Neale Hurston served as general editor of and a contributor to the Florida volume of the Federal Writers' Project American Guide Series. Robert Hemenway devotes only two paragraphs of his 1977 biography on Hurston to describing her brief tenure with the Federal Writers' Project, and other scholars and devotees of Hurston have also tended, as I had, to ignore or forget this detail of her life.
Several years ago, however, I happened quite by accident on a library copy of the 1939 Florida: A Guide to the Southernmost State. One sleepless night I discovered the following unauthored passage in the midst of what is, for the most part, an encyclopedic survey of Florida's history, agriculture, business, tourism, and education. In the description of the unincorporated town of South Bay, located on the banks of Lake Okeechobee, readers are told of the town's partial destruction during the 1928 hurricane (the same hurricane that Hurston describes in Their Eyes Were...
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SOURCE: Seidel, Kathryn Lee. “The Artist in the Kitchen: The Economics of Creativity in Hurston's ‘Sweat’.” In Zora in Florida, edited by Steve Glassman and Kathryn Lee Seidel, pp. 110-20. Orlando: University of Central Florida Press, 1991.
[In the following essay, Seidel asserts that “Sweat” is valuable for its depiction of the economic situation in Eatonville, Florida, in the early decades of the twentieth century as well as its “harsh, unrelenting indictment of the economic and personal degradation of marriage in a racist and sexist society.”]
Zora Neal Hurston's short story “Sweat” (1926) presents a radical transformation of an oppressed black domestic worker who attempts to envision her work as a work of art. The story is remarkable in Hurston's body of work for its harsh, unrelenting indictment of the economic and personal degradation of marriage in a racist and sexist society.
To accomplish this, “Sweat” functions at one level as a documentary of the economic situation of Eatonville in the early decades of the twentieth century. Hurston uses a naturalistic narrator to comment on the roles of Delia and Sykes Jones as workers as well as marriage partners, but ultimately the story veers away from naturalistic fiction and becomes a modernist rumination on Delia as an artist figure. The story's coherence of theme and structure makes it one of Hurston's most...
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SOURCE: Boxwell, D. A. “‘Sis Cat’ as Ethnographer: Self-Presentation and Self-Inscription in Zora Neale Hurston's Mules and Men.” African American Review 26, no. 4 (winter 1992): 605-17.
[In the following essay, Boxwell assesses Hurston's achievement as ethnographer in Mules and Men.]
One of the most striking photographs ever taken of an African-American woman writer can be found in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale. It depicts Zora Neale Hurston clad completely in white—dress, stockings, and shoes—standing in front of the Chevrolet she used on her folklore-collecting travels throughout the American South in the late 1920s. The arresting thing about this photographic image is that her garments are neatly and contrastively accessorized by a gun belt, a shoulder holster, and a ten-gallon hat. She is posing for the camera eye, very much in her “performance mode,” with her hands on her hips, thumbs assertively on the belt, feet firmly planted on the ground. Looking up to her right, she has a jaunty smile that might best be described as cocksure.1
I begin with a description of this photograph because, in “The Problem of the Text,” Mikhail Bakhtin writes of the “author image” in visual and literary works of art. This is what allows the viewer or reader to feel the presence of the artist even though the author is not a depicted, or...
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SOURCE: Jones, Evora W. “The Pastoral and the Picaresque in Zora Neale Hurston's ‘The Gilded Six-Bits’.” College Language Association Journal 35, no. 3 (March 1992): 316-24.
[In the following essay, Jones contends that “The Gilded Six-Bits” reflects elements of the pastoral and picaresque literary traditions.]
The history of a people, recorded through folklore, reveals unique, significant, complex, and even virtuous behavior patterns of a culture. This kind of history is one of the contributions of Zora Neale Hurston, anthropologist and folklorist, and includes literature reflecting the pastoral and the picaresque. It also includes literature which maintains readability, relevance, and its rightful position among belles lettres. Characteristic of such history is Zora Neale Hurston's “The Gilded Six-Bits.”
The term pastoral embodies many characteristics, the first of which is a “contrast between two worlds—One identified with rural peace and simplicity—the other with power and sophistication.”1 This contrast pervades the story. While details of the story will be used later to indicate other pastoral qualities, an initial discussion of this characteristic is appropriate here for its overshadowing effect.
According to Robert E. Hemenway, “The Gilded Six-Bits” is an “ironic account of infidelity and its human...
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SOURCE: Jordan, Rosan Augusta. “Not into Cold Space: Zora Neale Hurston and J. Frank Dobie as Holistic Folklorists.” Southern Folklore 49, no. 2 (1992): 109-31.
[In the following essay, Jordan finds similarities between Mules and Men and J. Frank Dobie's Tongues of the Monte, maintaining that because of their unconventional formats, both books offer “a more holistic version of the folklore they present.”]
The various collectors of Irish folklore have, from our point of view, one great merit, and from the point of view of others, one great fault. They have made their work literature rather than science, and told us of the Irish peasantry rather than of the primitive religion of mankind, or whatever else the folklorists are on the mad after. To be considered scientists they should have tabulated their tales in forms like grocers' bills—item the fairy king, item the queen. Instead of this they have caught the very voice of the people, the very pulse of life.
—William Butler Yeats1
Zora Neale Hurston, widely celebrated today as a novelist and interpreter of rural African-American folk culture, and J. Frank Dobie, remembered primarily as a regional writer of books about Texas folklore and culture, each published a book in 1935 which defies easy classification. Hurston's Mules and Men and Dobie's...
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SOURCE: Hale, David G. “Hurston's ‘Spunk’ and Hamlet.” Studies in Short Fiction 30, no. 3 (summer 1993): 397-98.
[In the following essay, Hale explores Hurston's allusion to Hamlet in her story “Spunk.”]
Zora Neale Hurston's “Spunk” (1925) is a story of lust, killing, and supernatural revenge set in rural Florida. Critics have praised its “mythic quality” achieved by her use of material from folklore and voodoo (Perry 123, Ikonne 184-85). Another aspect of Hurston's artistry appears through recognition of a complex allusion to Shakespeare's Hamlet, a work of high art with its own roots in myth and folklore.
In the story's last paragraph, at Spunk Banks's wake, “The women ate heartily of the funeral baked meats and wondered who would be Lena's next” (Hurston 8). The sentence clearly recalls Hamlet's “Thrift, thrift, Horatio, the funeral bak'd-meats / Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables” (1.2.180-81). The repeated phrase and the mention of a bereaved woman's soon taking a new man establish a definite link. A more oblique parallel emerges in the story's last sentence as the men guzzling whiskey suggest Hamlet's comments about Danish drinking in the same passage (175) and again in 1.4.8-22.
The basic situation of the story is something of a prequel to Hamlet: a man (Spunk/Claudius) desires the wife (Lena...
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SOURCE: Hurd, Myles Raymond. “What Goes Around Comes Around: Characterization, Climax, and Closure in Hurston's ‘Sweat’.” Langston Hughes Review 12, no. 2 (fall 1993): 7-15.
[In the following essay, Hurd offers a thematic and stylistic analysis of “Sweat.”]
Shortly after her 1925 arrival in New York City from Washington, D.C., and her native Eatonville, Florida, Zora Neale Hurston sought to make her literary presence known by entering a contest in creative writing sponsored by Charles S. Johnson, editor of Opportunity, and by having one of her prize-winning fictions reprinted in Alain Locke's The New Negro (1925). Inspired by the encouragement of these well-known Black editors, Hurston felt confident enough in 1926 to join forces with Wallace Thurman and Langston Hughes in coediting Fire!!, a journal designed to “epater le bourgeois into a realization of the existence of the younger Negro writers and artists” by “burn[ing] up a lot of the old, dead conventional Negro-white ideas of the past” (Hughes 135). When her two major collaborators found themselves in desperate need of material for the controversial literary magazine, she submitted “Sweat” (November 1926), along with the play Color Struck, to the ill-fated, one-issue volume of the avant-garde journal. A recollection of family members and neighbors in the all-Black community where she was...
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SOURCE: Green, Suzanne D. “Fear, Freedom and the Perils of Ethnicity: Otherness in Kate Chopin's ‘Beyond the Bayou’ and Zora Neale Hurston's ‘Sweat’.” Southern Studies 5, nos. 3-4 (fall-winter 1994): 105-24.
[In the following essay, Green contends that Hurston and Kate Chopin “both construct communities in which woman is equated with Other” in their respective stories “Sweat” and “Beyond the Bayou.”]
In the short fiction of Kate Chopin and Zora Neale Hurston, we often see women-particularly women of color—portrayed as a microcosm of society in which we are to view them not only as individuals, but as symbolic representations of the universal problems that women face. Within the microcosm that each writer creates, their female characters deal with issues that range from guilt and fear to racism and Otherness. These issues direct their lives and their interactions with their communities. Women are often marginalized because of their gender, and this separation places them in a position that is by definition divorced from the mainstream. Societal control by a dominant gender or race leads to the exclusion or suppression of those that are not part of the controlling group, and the result is the disempowerment of the nondominant group. The disempowered are placed in the category of Other—literally, that which is Other than the One dominant societal group. While any...
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SOURCE: Chinn, Nancy, and Elizabeth E. Dunn. “‘The Ring of Singing Metal on Wood’: Zora Neale Hurston's Artistry in ‘The Gilded Six-Bits’.” Mississippi Quarterly 49, no. 4 (fall 1996): 775-90.
[In the following essay, Chinn and Dunn assert that “The Gilded Six-Bits” underscores Hurston's artistry as a fiction writer, folklorist, and historian.]
“The Gilded Six-Bits” first published in Story, August 1933, is Zora Neale Hurston's last short story before she became a novelist with the publication of Jonah's Gourd Vine in 1934. In this tale of love, marriage, value conflict, and new beginnings, Hurston explores approximately one year in the life of one couple, Missie May and Joe Banks, to relate a parable that has an appeal beyond its specific historical context. As she tells how Joe and Missie May faced the challenge of a street-wise stranger named Otis D. Slemmons, Hurston uses history, folk culture, and subtle but complex characterizations to create a short story which blurs the boundary between fact and fiction in a number of ways. Setting, ritual, dialect, and the nature of human relationships, including the sensual and intimate, all contribute to Hurston's overall goal of generalizing from the particular. The story also opens a window on Hurston's own perception of her role as an author and her solution to the problem of reconciling her rural Florida childhood with her...
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SOURCE: Andrews, Adrianne R. “Of Mules and Men and Men and Women: The Ritual of Talking B[l]ack.” In Language, Rhythm and Sound: Black Popular Cultures into the Twenty-First Century, edited by Joseph K. Adjaye and Adrianne R. Andrews, pp. 109-20. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1997.
[In the following essay, Andrews explores the tradition of verbal assertiveness amongst African American women through an analysis of Mules and Men.]
Patterns of negotiating respect through verbal assertiveness, through the power of the word, are a part of a living tradition among black women in the African diaspora, including the United States. Evidence of the historicity of this behavior can be found in sociological literature as well as in fiction and folklore. In this essay I explore this tradition as it occurs in gender relations represented in the ethnographic data and folklore contained in part 1 of Zora Neale Hurston's Mules and Men (1935). This is a study of Hurston and her work as an anthropologist who collected folklore and produced an ethnographic text rather than as a literary figure who produced a literary text, which is how she and her work have typically been examined.
Hurston “has often been accused of making her folklore studies too literary and her literary works too folkloristic,” writes John Roberts.1 While he agrees that this criticism has...
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SOURCE: Harrison, Elizabeth Jane. “Zora Neale Hurston and Mary Hunter Austin's Ethnographic Fiction: New Modernist Narratives.” In Unmanning Modernism: Gendered Re-Readings, edited by Elizabeth Jane Harrison and Shirley Peterson, pp. 44-58. Knoxville, Tenn.: University of Tennessee Press, 1997.
[In the following essay, Harrison investigates the influence of anthropological concepts developed by Franz Boas and his contemporaries on the narrative strategy of Hurston and Mary Hunter Austin.]
As twentieth-century “regional” or “ethnic” writers, Zora Neale Hurston and Mary Hunter Austin have suffered from a neglect of their literary strategies in favor of an analysis of the cultural context of their narratives. By focusing on the incorporation of this content, we might reconsider the place of each author in the modernist American canon. Far from simply recording or romanticizing “primitive” African and Native American cultures, these two authors critique the relationships among narrator, subject, and audience, and construct complex narrative structures which incorporate oral forms. Their narrative techniques, what I define as “ethnographic fiction,” link them to so-called high modernists like James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and William Faulkner, whose experiments with multiple points of view and oral narratives can no longer be considered unique.
Although modern psychology's...
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SOURCE: Lester, Neal A. “Sounds of Silent Performances: Homoeroticism in Zora Neale Hurston's ‘Story in Harlem Slang: Jelly's Tale’.” Southern Quarterly 36, no. 3 (spring 1998): 10-20.
[In the following essay, Lester examines the homoerotic aspects of “Story in Harlem Slang: Jelly's Tale.”]
Erotica was never written by gay men. It couldn't have been. We were, by definition, obscene; therefore, anything written about us had to be declared pornography.
—John Preston, Flesh and the Word
… true niggers ain't gay!
—Ice Cube, “Horny Lil' Devil”
Harlem Renaissance writer Zora Neale Hurston was during her day and is even today an enigma. Not only were her contemporaries of the 1920s and 1930s unable to lock her into prescribed social and artistic boundaries, but those who visit her prolific and engaging career as an essayist, author, and playwright quickly realize that Hurston is a writer whose personal life and writings deliberately resist neat categories. Others have rightfully documented Hurston's mainly black male critics', particularly Richard Wright's, dismissal of Hurston and her work in African American oral folklore as minstrelsy personified. Her affiliations with and alleged groveling attitude toward her white...
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SOURCE: Meisenhelder, Susan Edwards. “‘Fractious’ Mules and Covert Resistance in Mules and Men.” In Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick: Race and Gender in the Work of Zora Neale Hurston, pp. 14-35. Tuscaloosa, Ala.: The University of Alabama Press, 1999.
[In the following essay, Meisenhelder analyzes the narrative techniques that Hurston utilizes to explore racial and sexual issues in Mules and Men.]
In an oft-quoted passage from her introduction to Mules and Men, Hurston stresses the difference between her childhood unreflective immersion in black folklife and her later understanding of it:
When I pitched headforemost into the world I landed in the crib of negroism. From the earliest rocking of my cradle, I had known about the capers Brer Rabbit is apt to cut and what the Squinch Owl says from the house top. But it was fitting me like a tight chemise. I couldn't see it for wearing it. It was only when I was off in college, away from my native surroundings, that I could see myself like somebody else and stand off and look at my garment. Then I had to have the spy-glass of Anthropology to look through at that.
As Hurston suggests here, she is more than a passive transcriber of folktales in Mules and Men. Distanced from the culture she depicts, trained as an anthropologist...
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SOURCE: Lawrence, David Todd. “Folkloric Representation and Extended Context in the Experimental Ethnography of Zora Neale Hurston.” Southern Folklore 57, no. 2 (2000): 119-34.
[In the following essay, Lawrence discusses Hurston's Mules and Men and her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God as ethnographies, contending that “folklorists and anthropologists must trust in Hurston's skill as both a scientist and an artist in order to fully comprehend and appreciate the value of these works as exceptional representations of African American culture.”]
There is no story that is not true.
—Spoken by Uchendo in Things Fall Apart
Without a doubt one of the emergent, if not dominant, trends in both anthropology and folklore in the last fifteen years has been a significant movement toward a conception of an ethnography that is more fictive in content and more literary or creative in form. This can be witnessed in the publication of major theoretical works calling for increased experimentation in ethnographic writing and in the relative explosion of ethnographies of experimental design. Anthropologists and folklorists have begun to accept an idea which has, in the past, been virtually impossible for them to embrace, their sensitivities being largely influenced by the “objectivity” supposedly inherent in...
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SOURCE: Champion, Laurie. “Socioeconomics in Selected Short Stories of Zora Neale Hurston.” In Southern Quarterly 40, no. 1 (fall 2001): 79-92.
[In the following essay, Champion asserts that Hurston depicts strong women in her stories who “develop independence in spite of oppressive social conditions, particularly those influenced by a politics of gender- and ethnic-biased economics.”]
Zora Neale Hurston sets most of her work in or near the all-black town of Eatonville, Florida,1 which she uses to portray lifestyles of rural African Americans by showing folk customs and beliefs, communal attitudes, and voodoo practices.2 Hurston's choice of Eatonville as setting reflects one of her major artistic philosophies, central to which is her need to celebrate African American culture. As she explains in her well-known essay “How It Feels to Be Colored Me,” she realized that she was black when she was thirteen and left Eatonville to attend school in Jacksonville. Even so, she says,
I am not tragically colored. There is not great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all. I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal and whose feelings are all hurt about it. Even in the helter-skelter skirmish that is my life, I have seen that the world is...
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Carr, Brian, and Tova Cooper. “Zora Neale Hurston and Modernism at the Critical Limit.” Modern Fiction Studies 48, no. 2 (summer 2002): 285-313.
Chronicles Hurston's participation in the Harlem Renaissance, discusses Mules and Men as a work of modernism, and examines interpretations of the book as a work of postmodern fiction and ethnography.
Dolby-Stahl, Sandra. “Literary Objectives: Hurston's Use of Personal Narrative in Mules and Men.” Western Folklore 51, no. 1 (January 1992): 51-63.
Perceives Mules and Men to be one of the finest examples of self-reflexive, literary ethnography ever written.
Estes, David C. “The Neo-African Vatican: Zora Neale Hurston's New Orleans.” In Literary New Orleans in the Modern World, edited by Richard S. Kennedy, pp. 66-82. Baton Rouge, La.: Louisiana State University Press, 1998.
Asserts that Hurston's nonfiction and fictional writing about voodoo “conveys a deeper understanding of New Orleans' significant position on the national map of American culture because of the indigenous folkways of its African American residents.”
Nicholls, David G. “Migrant Labor, Folklore, and Resistance in Hurston's Polk County: Reframing Mules and Men.” African American Review 33, no. 3 (fall 1999):...
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