Dust Tracks on a Road

by Zora Neale Hurston
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What is the tone in Dust Tracks on a Road?

Hurston's autobiography is upbeat and optimistic, with a breezy, conversational style.

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Zora Neale Hurston's autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road, is written, for the most part, in an upbeat, optimistic style, which is also the tone of most of her personal essays. It often reads like fiction , with highly-worked descriptions full of of adjectives, as when she begins...

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Zora Neale Hurston's autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road, is written, for the most part, in an upbeat, optimistic style, which is also the tone of most of her personal essays. It often reads like fiction, with highly-worked descriptions full of of adjectives, as when she begins the second chapter, "My Folks," with the following sentence:

Into this burly, boiling, hard-hitting, rugged-individualistic setting walked one day a tall, heavy-muscled mulatto who resolved to put down roots.

The book was published in 1942 and is perhaps more surprising for what it excludes than for its contents. There is very little discussion of Hurston's career as a writer. Her most famous work, Their Eyes Were Watching God, merits only two brief comments, one of which is to say that it took her only seven weeks to write. The other curious absence (though it is characteristic of Hurston's approach to race) is that there is very little reference to racial segregation or oppression. Blackness is mentioned from time to time and the word "n----r" is flung about with some freedom, but there is no serious discussion of race, and when Hurston does talk about blackness at all, she is quite likely to be more critical of black people than white people. She tends to write very frankly of the class divide within black society, which causes her more concern than the attitudes of white people:

“My people! My people!” From the earliest rocking of my cradle days, I have heard this cry go up from Negro lips. It is forced outward by pity, scorn and hopeless resignation. It is called forth by the observations of one class of Negro on the doings of another branch of the brother in black. For instance, well-mannered Negroes groan out like that when they board a train or a bus and find other Negroes on there with their shoes off, stuffing themselves with fried fish, bananas and peanuts, and throwing the garbage on the floor.

Hurston has sometimes been criticized for reinforcing such stereotypes, and Dust Tracks on a Road may be her most controversial book. Regular readers, however, will not be surprised by the complete absence of self-pity and the bright, breezy, conversational tone of her autobiography.

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