Please provide the tone, word choice, imagery and themes found in "How It Feels to be Colored Me" by Zora Neale Hurston.

Expert Answers
carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

“How It Feels to Be Colored Me” by Zora Neale Hurston portrays  her view of life.  For the reader, Hurston’s self- portrait conveys a wonderfully remarkable human being who does care to what race she was born.  In fact, her race is the human race.


The tone of the essay is exuberance about life.  The optimistic atmosphere provided by the author illustrates how much the author loved life. She walks and talks the life of someone who finds laughter and fun in most everything that she does.

Word Choice

Her word choice enhances the understanding that Hurston was well-educated.  This was true certainly in a time when it was not the norm for women in general and certainly not black women to be college educated. Her diction is easily understandable, and yet she uses quotations from several literary sources. 

It is obvious that her intention was twofold: to illustrate her early life as a colored girl and her life as a well-educated and celebrated author. Throughout her writing, Hurston uses similes and metaphors to adequately describe herself or her circumstances:

I feel like a brown bag of miscellany propped against a wall. Against a wall in company with other bags, white, red, and yellow. 


Her imagery makes visual several of the scenes in the essay.  Colors infiltrate her emotions and descriptions as she emphasizes that she is not just one color but a part of the makeup of all America. Through her images, she enables the reader to feel as she did as a child living in an all-black town with the rest of the world passing by and occasionally waving at Hurston on her favorite spot: the gate post.

When the white man accompanies Hurston to the Harlem night club, her visual and auditory images display both the music of the times and the dancing of a jungle woman [Hurston]  who comes alive in a “speak easy.”

My pulse is throbbing like a war drum.  I want to slaughter something—give pain, give death to what, I don’t know.


The most important aspect of the essay comes from Hurston’s own voice.  She does not feel colored or black or Negro unless someone reminds her that she is.  She did not even realize that she was black until she was thirteen and placed in the white world.  It was not that Hurston did not know discrimination in her life because she did. It did not make her angry.

On the other hand, her positive attitude about life helped her to go through the bad experiences with the help of her self-confidence which must have come from several sources: her parents; her intelligence; and her desire to be whoever she was.

Her best effort comes from her references to the bags.  Hurston believed that God [She calls him “the Great Stuffer of Bags] fills everyone’s life with different and similar qualities.  Each race has special qualities; however, everyone is a human being which makes everyone cut  from the same cloth.  She defined herself as an American filled with a little color.

Happiness to Zora Neale Hurston came from being herself. She describes herself as she sashays down the streets of New York with her jaunty hat. She belongs to no race, but the female race with “her string of beads.”

Read the study guide:
How It Feels to Be Colored Me

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question