Local Color Writer?Should Hurston be considered a "local color" writer? Why or why not?

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e-martin's profile pic

e-martin | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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This is a term I've never come across before so I'm not sure exactly how it's usually applied. The phrase "local color" and the phrase "writer of color" are two terms that seem completely separate.

Most individual books offer limited geographical settings. Often one geographical area is used over multiple works, as in Hurston's works, as Faulkner's, as Fante's, as Bellow's, as Marquez...

This geographical commonality doesn't make a writer a "local" writer, does it?

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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If we consider local color not a limiting label, I think Hurston applies because she strongly captures the setting of the story. By local color, we mean she captures the people and culture of that specific time and place. I do not think that this is all the book is good for, but Harper Lee, John Steinbeck and Jack London were local color writers too. One could argue the same thing of Mark Twain and Charles Dickens. It takes great skill to capture the local color.
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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In concurrence with Post #1, Zora Neale Hurston is not a mere local color writer, but an expert in this field.  For, she transcends the definition as some of her characters do not adhere to the typical gender and ethical roles as stated in the definition quoted in #3.

Certainly Janie is not typical of her area as she is very independent;nor is TeaCake, who is much too modern a man to fit the setting of Their Eyes Were Watching God.

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amy-lepore | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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I went to school in Orlando and began my teaching career at St. Cloud High School, not too far from Eatonville, Florida.  The festivals held there each year in Hurston's honor are amazing, and they do a wonderful job of showcasing her work.  I can't imagine a better example of a local color writer...she makes the lives of her characters pop off the page, and they are all from this region.  After all, the advice I always hear from writing teachers is, "Write what you know."  Zora has done that and then some with the area where she grew up and the people who lived there.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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What do you actually mean by "local colour"? As pointed out in #1, one of the issues with applying such labels is that you actually limit the scope and meaning of the work. I think we can definitely say that, whilst Hurston definitely used her culture and context for her work, there are ways in which she transcends this, establishing universal themes and also using her writing to comment, sometimes critically, on her own context. So, whilst I do agree that we could apply this label to this author, I think it needs to come with a health warning so we do not unintentionally limit the force of her work.

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Noelle Thompson | High School Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted on

In my opinion, there is no better definite example of local color than the Eatonville, Florida of Their Eyes Were Watching God.  Just a little bit from eNotes about local color (because I couldn't define it as eloquently as this):

Regional and local color stories concentrate on the landscape, dialect, customs, and folklore specific to a geographic region or locale; in fact, the setting can be so integral to the story that it sometimes becomes a character in itself. Characters in these stories adhere to traditional gender, ethnic, and socioeconomic roles.

Ah, Janie in Eatonville, ... everything from checkers on the front porch to the devastation of the hurricane.  Local color at its best.

My one issue with local color here is that, generally, local color stories aren't "supposed" to have much of a plot.  Hmmmm, that's certainly not true here.  One absolutely never forgets when Tea Cake gets bitten by that rabid dog and subsequently gets rabies:  an unforgettable image.

Therefore, I can understand how someone can make a case either way.  An interesting topic!  I hope others join in!

Meanwhile, check out one of our links for more:  http://www.enotes.com/short-story-criticism/regionalism-and-local-color-short-fiction

lprono's profile pic

lprono | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

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Personally, I am always wary of these labels when they are applied to writers. They tend to oversimplify the relationships of the author to his or her subject matter and cultural context. In the case of Hurston, it is apparent that folklore and folk tales play an important part of her oeuvre. In her fiction, Hurston makes use of traditional folk tales and incorporates them into the narrative. The author also devoted several non fiction books (such as Mules and Men [1935] and Tell My Horse [1938]) to the collection of folk tales. Yet, to say that she is a "local color" writer would be in a way to make her organic to the folklore and the folk communities that she studies. The author's relationship with her subject matter was more complex. As she stated herself, she needed "the spyglass of anthropology" to make sense of her own cultural heritage and her books sometimes depict the folk communities where female characters live as oppressive and dominated by male hierarchies. This attitude thus makes Hurston a scholar of folklore rather than merely its voice.

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