How Does Hurston Describe Slavery?

How does Zora Neale Hurston deliver her ideas in her essay "How It Feels to Be Colored Me"?

Can you comment on her writing style and how it helps her deliver her ideas?

Expert Answers
carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Zora Neale Hurston’s essay “How It Feels to Be Colored Me” expresses her unique view of being colored in a white world.  Her purview of life came from living in an all- black town, Eatonville, Florida.  

The narration of the essay is first person with Hurston as the speaker.  She outlines her life as a little girl who just happens to be colored.  Hurston takes a positive attitude toward her induction into the white world.

When she was thirteen in Eatonville, her father farmed her out to his brother in Jacksonville.  Hurston’s education was slow in coming but eventually she received her college degree at Barnard. 

The writing of the essay follows the particular ideas that Hurston promotes.

She saw no difference between her and the white people

The speaker used her front porch to observe the parade of people who would pass by in their cars or wagons. Her observations became a play.  The gate post was her seat and the surrounding porch the proscenium arch.  As the people would pass by, Hurston would always yell or say something to them.

The day that she became colored

Hurston makes an interesting point that until she was 13 she did not realize that she was any different than anyone else. Her father sent her to Jacksonville by river boat.  When she stepped off the boat, she was no longer Zora from Orange County, Florida but the little colored girl

Her life as a colored girl was not a tragedy

Hurston was not bitter by her circumstances.  She did not mind being colored unlike other people who belonged :

‘Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal and whose feelings are all hurt about it.’

Someone is always reminding  me that I came from slaves

The author never dwells on being colored.  It did not depress her.  To her the slavery problem ended sixty years before. The Civil War and its results opened up the world and its opportunities for her.

I do not always feel colored

Only when she is in an all-white situation, does she really feel colored.  It is up against the white background of her college experiences when she would look around and see a sea of white faces. The important thing is that she was able to keep her own identity.

She has seen white people in the same situation

She recalls a time when she was in the midst of a Harlem cabaret; Hurston’s color comes out. She brought a white person to the cabaret, his reaction surprised her.  Hurston enjoyed the music of the jazz orchestra.  She becomes a heathen from Africa with  dancing wildly.  In  her imagination, she shakes her spear above her head; and  she is painted red, white, and blue.

While she was experiencing this out of body African exultation, the white man was sitting quietly and said “Good music they have here.” He did not allow the music to enter his soul.  The difference was his whiteness and her coloredness.

I am me

Color does not enter into her equation.  When Hurston walks down a street, she belongs to the human race not the colored race.

She does feel discrimination. Hurston  does not let it enter into her heart or soul.  Yet, the speaker is always surprised by the prejudice. 

As an American citizen, she does not consider herself to be a colored American—just an American.

Hurston is a clever writer.  Her style is easy to follow and her examples are interesting.  Expressing her point of view about being a colored person, Hurston employs vocabulary which is surprisingly simple but honest and true to her inner self. 

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

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