How It Feels to Be Colored Me Questions and Answers
by Zora Neale Hurston

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What is a simile used in the story?

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In this essay, Hurston offers an upbeat appraisal of being "colored," what we today would call being Black. She asserts that she goes on with her life and doesn't let racism get her down or stop her. At one one point, she uses the following simile (a simile is a comparison that uses the words "like" or "as"):

I feel like a brown bag of miscellany propped against a wall.

She continues by saying that she feels like a brown bag propped against white, yellow, and red bags. What she means is that our race, be it white, Asian, Native American, or Black, is just an outward wrap, no more important than the color of a bag. It is what is inside of us that counts. Hurston then goes on to catalogue some of the miscellaneous items she finds inside the brown bag of herself, a mix of the worthless and the valuable:

A first-water diamond, an empty spool, bits of broken glass, lengths of string, a key to a door long since crumbled away, a rusty knife-blade, old shoes saved for a road that never was and never will be, a nail bent under the weight of things too heavy for any nail, a dried flower or two still a little fragrant.

Like all people, her soul is a mix of treasure and trash. Her skin tone is not the most important part of her, she argues.

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Mary Sutton eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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One simile that Hurston uses in this personal essay occurs when she describes her reaction to jazz in contrast to that of her white companion: "My pulse is throbbing like a war drum." The simile makes a connection between her pulse, increased by her excitement in response to the music, and a musical drum beat. The war drum also coincides with Hurston's vision of herself in Africa, whooping and shaking an "assegai" above her head like a tribal warrior.

Her connection to jazz causes her to temporarily abandon "the veneer we call civilization"—spiritually, anyway—to feel the beat and its roots in African musical tradition. Her companion, on the other hand, has no connection to that tradition and merely taps his fingers—a subtle, unenthusiastic response in contrast to Hurston's "throbbing" war drum feeling.

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