What does the metaphor in the final paragraph of Zora Neale Hurston's "How It Feels to Be Colored Me" suggest?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Zora Neal Hurston spends most of "How It Feels to Be Colored Me" talking about the ways in which she does and does not feel her color. She does not, for example, feel like so many other African Americans she knows; they whine and complain all the time about being black and disadvantaged. In fact, for many years she did not even realize she was different than anyone else. Hurston does not wallow in the past or hold a grudge against anyone for the slavery which held her ancestors in bondage, unlike so many other African Americans. 

Sometimes, though, Hurstan feels every bit of her color, as when she is caught up in the throes of a jazz number. She has learned that white people do not feel music in the same way she does, but that does not diminish either of them. In short, Hurston is well aware that skin color is just one element of a person, and being black or white is not something that matters very much.

In the last paragraph of her essay, Hurston uses a wonderful metaphor to summarize these conclusions based on her own life experiences and attitudes. She begins by saying she feels as if she is just a "brown bag of miscellany propped against a wall." Next to her are many other bags, and they are "white, red and yellow." She explains her idea this way:

Pour out the contents, and there is discovered a jumble of small things priceless and worthless. A first-water diamond, an empty spool, bits of broken glass, lengths of string, a key to a door long since crumbled away, a rusty knife-blade, old shoes saved for a road that never was and never will be, a nail bent under the weight of things too heavy for any nail, a dried flower or two still a little fragrant.... On the ground before you is the jumble it held--so much like the jumble in the bags, could they be emptied, that all might be dumped in a single heap and the bags refilled without altering the content of any greatly. A bit of colored glass more or less would not matter. Perhaps that is how the Great Stuffer of Bags filled them in the first place--who knows?

This metaphor suggests that we are all the same (in this case, we are all bags); though we may have a different color on the outside, the "stuff" in our bags that makes up who we are is not really all that different than the "stuff" that is found in anyone else's bag. This metaphor gives us a wonderful picture of how little skin color matters and how human beings are all essentially the same, not different. 

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