What is the main idea of "How It Feels to Be Colored Me"?

The main idea of "How it Feels to be Colored Me" is author Zora Neale Hurston's sense of resilience and optimism as a Black woman in 1920s American society.

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In this essay, Hurston uses herself as an example to demonstrate that a vibrant, can-do, optimistic attitude on life and a willingness to fight to get ahead can bring success and fulfillment, even for Black people in 1920s American society. The essay does not deny discrimination against Black people or downplay their tragic experiences with racism and oppression; however, Hurston chooses to focus not on these ideas, but on the prospect of moving forward and taking advantage of opportunities ahead of her. "No one on earth ever had a greater chance for glory," she writes.

Hurston differentiates herself from what she calls the "sobbing school of Negrohood," which dwells on all the negative aspects of Black life in American culture. She describes these people as people who

hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal and whose feelings are all but about it.

Additionally, she writes,

Someone is always at my elbow reminding me that I am the granddaughter of slaves.

Despite these people, who would remind her of the tragic past and present experiences of Black people, Hurston focuses on the positive, saying that she sharpens her "oyster knife." Whether she uses this image to imply that she is ready to fight for success or to insist that the world is her oyster and is thus hers for the taking, she focuses on what is ahead of her—on the idea that her ancestors' experiences have set her up for the opportunity she has today.

Near the end of the essay, Hurston also uses an extended metaphor to make another important point. She envisions people of all races as colored bags that hold a mix of trash and treasure. The contents of the bags could all be dumped together and replaced in the individual bags without it making much difference what ended up where. With this image, Hurston argues that all people are inherently alike, regardless of race.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on February 17, 2021
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