Dust Tracks on a Road

by Zora Neale Hurston

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What is the tone of "From Dust Tracks on a Road" by Zora Neale Hurston?

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(Note: I'm assuming this question pertains to the excerpt from Dust Tracks on a Road in the Prentice Hall American literature book, which covers the second half of Chapter 4, "The Inside Search," from Hurston's autobiography.)

In this chapter, Hurston explains a part in her life and describes an incident with two teachers from the North. As in most of the book, Hurston writes in a light, conversational, wistful tone that even approaches awe on certain occasions and allows her to discuss racial issues in a way that reflects her refusal to be defined by her race (see Hurston's essay "How it Feels to Be Colored Me").

The best way to see the tone is to look at the language Hurston uses. She begins this excerpt with, "I used to take a seat on the gate post and watch the world go by." She goes on to describe how she would ride with white people who passed her farm and they would be amazed by her "self-assurance" and "brazenness."

Throughout the book, including this passage, Hurston speaks in a Southern black dialect, including words that reveal where she's from. She uses phrases like "whipping before company" and "switched my dress tail at them."

When the white teachers (charitably? condescendingly?) ask Hurston to their hotel room because she reads well, she seems to admire them. She describes a scene in which the women ask her to read a passage from Scribner's Magazine and tell her after a few paragraphs "with smiles, that that would do." Perhaps it's Hurston's lack of reaction to these clearly condescending requests that add to her tone. She says nothing about these women in the rest of the book.

Most of the autobiography is written in this way. Hurston excuses or ignores seemingly racist or condescending actions. This is what makes the book so interesting and makes it stand out from other autobiographies written by African-Americans in this era.

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