Zora Neale Hurston incorporates plenty of figurative language in her essay “How It Feels to Be Colored Me.” She begins with hyperbole when she declares (with tongue firmly in cheek) that she is the only African American “whose grandfather on the mother’s side was not an Indian chief.” She enjoys poking a bit of fun at such claims, which were relatively common in her day.
Hurston uses vivid sensory details as she describes the “dusty horses” of the Southern white people and the chugging automobiles of the Northern white people who passed through her hometown. Front porches, she notes, were “daring” places for the townsfolk, but she preferred the top of the gatepost, which she describes using a theater metaphor. It is a proscenium box, the front-and-center part of a theater stage that is just right for a “born first-nighter,” an up-and-coming actress like herself.
The author gives us a taste of her dialect when she includes expressions like “go a piece of the way.” But she notes that she “suffered a sea change” when she moved to Jacksonville and became aware of her race for the first time. She realized that she was “a fast brown—warranted not to rub nor run.” Notice the metaphors here. Yet “no great sorrow dammed up” Hurston’s soul by this revelation. She was too busy living, “sharpening [her] oyster knife,” to take full advantage of what the world had to offer (alluding to the old expression about the world being one’s oyster).
Hurston uses an extended metaphor when she speaks of the years of slavery as being preparation for the race that she is now running, which is a “bully adventure.” She and her people “hold the center of the national stage,” and it is an exciting place to be.
The author did, however, notice her race when she was at Barnard, where she felt like a “dark rock” in the midst of the all-white student body. She is also conscious of her color in the jazz club, and she describes her jungle scenario in vivid detail. She experiences “great blobs of purple and red emotion.”
Hurston provides an excellent simile when she says she is “feeling as snooty as the lions in front of the Forty-Second Street Library.” She enjoys her life to the fullest and is happy with the person she is. She ends the essay with an extended metaphor about different colored bags that all contain a mix of objects and that, beneath the surface, are very much alike.