In the novel, Zora Neale Hurston describes Mrs. Turner as follows:
Mrs. Turner, like all other believers had built an altar to the unattainable—Caucasian characteristics for all. Her god would smite her, would hurl her from pinnacles and lose her in deserts, but she would not forsake his altars. Behind her crude words was a belief that somehow she and others through worship could attain her paradise—a heaven of straight-haired, thin-lipped, high-nose boned white seraphs. The physical possibilities in no way injured faith.
Hurston uses Mrs. Turner to explore colorism in the black community—i.e. the practice of stratifying people of largely similar ancestry according to their skin color, as well as according to their hair texture and the shape of their nose. Those like Janie—who demonstrates a proximity to a white, European ancestry—are revered, while those who appear more phenotypically "African," such as Tea Cake, are dismissed.
Hurston is careful to tell the reader that Mrs. Turner...
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