What does Isis have that the white couple lack? What keeps them from having it?
The answer to this question can be found right in the title of the piece: “Drenched in Light.” In the story, Isis is a young vivacious black girl in a small town outside of Orlando, Florida – she has an energy and a natural, compulsive will to live, to celebrate life to the fullest, so much so that her actions require no reflection or weighing of possibility or consequences – she simply acts. In the story, Isis is never still, except at the beginning as she sits atop the fence waiting to greet cars that come by, and even then she has a purpose. She is “drenched” in energy, she is always moving and dancing and fidgeting, changing her mind on a dime and stealing her Grandma’s new tablecloth because she needs a Spanish shawl to dance in at the community festival – an impromptu dance, of course.
And the impetus behind Isis’s natural light is her Grandma, always reprimanding, always keeping Isis on her toes – in the story, Hurston is implying through Isis’s relationship with her relatives that this energy is nurtured by culture, and grows within a family, a community, specifically the African American community, of which the white people Isis meets can never be a part. Hence their lack of “light,” of such inborn love of life. When they first see Isis dancing at the community festival they are immediately marked as “other” by their response – they are “suppressing mirth discreetly behind gloved hands.” The rest of those watching Isis are expressing their enjoyment behind no such veils, but are being open and honest with their reactions.
When the white woman asks Isis’s grandmother if the girl can come with them to dance in their hotel, she offers as explanation, “I could stand a little light today.” And then, in the final lines of the story, she says, “I would like just a little of her sunshine to soak into my soul. I would like that a lot.” But of course, because the white people lack the sort of community felt by their young visitor, they can do nothing but be visitors themselves in the light – they can see it, they can feel its rays, but they cannot create it themselves.