Analysis

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Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 520

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“Drenched in Light” by Zora Neale Hurston is a short story that explores the life of Isis Watts. Isis is a young black girl in rural Florida, and she is the reason the title of the story is “Drenched in Light” because that is a description of Isis. The story follows Isis as she walks through her day, causing mischief and living life to the fullest. Those who see her can feel the light and life radiating off of her, and Hurson describes her as “Isis the Joyful.”

The joy that Isis exudes is meant as a commentary on the fact that race and money are not an indicator or prohibition of joy that people find in life. Isis, despite being poor, young, and living in a strict household with her grandmother can find joy and excitement in life. Hurston shows the joy that can happen even in poverty and restriction by showing different occasions where others are impacted by their time with Isis.

For example, when she sees the Robinson brothers, white cattle ranchers, and waves to them on the road, Hurston describes the experience as,

Everybody in the country, white and colored, knew little Isis Watts, Isis the Joyful. The Robinson brothers, white cattle-men, were particularly fond of her and always extended a stirrup for her to climb up behind one of them for a short ride, or let her try to crack the long bull whips and yee whoo at the cows.

The cattle ranchers, more privileged than Isis in a society that saw them as inherently more valuable because of their skin color, still derive a lot of joy from their experience with her. Their lives, from a materialistic standpoint, are infinitely better than hers, but she is still the one who finds more joy in life—she is enjoying her life more than they are and they gain something from being near her. This is something that happens over and over again.

Throughout the entire story, we see people who should be happy, should have joy and light and life because of their circumstances, that still pale in comparison to the young girl who has nearly nothing in life. At the end of the story, that point is driven home by the white couple who pick Isis up in the forest—they are wealthy, sophisticated, and active in society—but they still lack joy.

It is no small wonder then that the woman offers to take Isis to dance for her at the end of the story—remarking, “I would like just a little of her sunshine to soak into my soul. I would like that alot.”

Hurston shows in the story that joy and the enjoyment of life are not something that derives from race, social class, or material possessions. Instead, joy is a disposition of the soul towards life. Isis, a young girl, can impart joy to others by the way she lives life—by her participating in new experiences and seeking to enjoy things for themselves. She dances, she waves, and she experiences it all—just for the sake of the experience.

Style and Technique

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 427

Hurston had both an eye and an ear for her folk material. One of her trademarks was the use of dialect. The stories and folklore that she collected and translated into her writing were from an oral tradition. To preserve this form of African American expression, Hurston mastered the art of presenting black vernacular speech in written form. Isis, Grandma Potts, Isis’s brother Joel, and even the Robinson brothers (local white cattlemen) speak in the local dialect throughout the story, in contrast to the white lady, who speaks in educated English.

Grandma Potts in particular represents family and tradition, and it is from her mouth that the most colorful speech in the story emerges. She speaks the opening line of the story: “You, Isie Watts! Git ’own offen dat gate post an’ rake up dis yahd!” Frustrated by Isis’s failure to respond, she screams: “Ah’ll show dat limb of Satan she cain’t shake herself at me. If she ain’t down by the time Ah gets dere, Ah’ll break huh down in de lines.”

The story is written in the third person, but the point of view is distinctly that of Isis, the joyful dancer. The strong sense of self-confidence that characterizes both Hurston the young writer and her alter ego, the child Isis, pervades the story.

The image of the horizon is the expression of Isis’s hopes and dreams. She habitually sits on the gatepost gazing yearningly up the road to Orlando. Once seated comfortably in the car, Isis explains to her benefactors that she is really a princess. “She told them about her trips to the horizon, about the trailing gowns, the gold shoes with blue bottoms . . . the white charger, the time when she was Hercules and had slain numerous dragons and sundry giants.”

These words are echoed in Hurston’s autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road. Hurston writes of her childhood: “I used to climb to the top of one of the huge Chinaberry trees which guarded our front gate, and look out over the world. The most interesting thing that I saw was the horizon.” She goes on to say “for weeks I saw myself sitting astride of a fine horse. My shoes had sky-blue bottoms to them, and I was riding off to look at the belly-band of the world.”

“Drenched in Light” is confirmed by Hurston’s autobiography to be an expression of her own joyous childhood and of the singular grace of growing up as a black child in the lap of her community.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 247

Awkward, Michael, ed. New Essays on “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Boyd, Valerie. Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston. New York: Scribner, 2003.

Campbell, Josie P. Student Companion to Zora Neale Hurston. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2001.

Croft, Robert W. A Zora Neale Hurston Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002.

Cronin, Gloria L., ed. Critical Essays on Zora Neale Hurston. New York: G. K. Hall, 1998.

Grant, Nathan. Masculinist Impulses: Toomer, Hurston, Black Writing, and Modernity. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2004.

Hemenway, Robert E. Zora Neale Hurston. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1977. Reprint. London: Camden Press, 1986.

Hill, Lynda Marion. Social Rituals and the Verbal Art of Zora Neale Hurston. Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1996.

Hurston, Lucy Anne. Speak, So You Can Speak Again: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston. New York: Doubleday, 2004.

Jones, Sharon L. Rereading the Harlem Renaissance: Race, Class, and Gender in the Fiction of Jessie Fauset, Zora Neale Hurston, and Dorothy West. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002.

Lyons, Mary E. Sorrow’s Kitchen: The Life and Folklore of Zora Neale Hurston. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1990.

McGlamery, Tom. Protest and the Body in Melville, Dos Passos, and Hurston. New York: Routledge, 2004.

Miles, Diana. Women, Violence, and Testimony in the Works of Zora Neale Hurston. New York: P. Lang, 2003.

Pierpont, Claudia Roth. Passionate Minds: Women Rewriting the World. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.

Wright, Melanie J. Moses in America: The Cultural Uses of Biblical Narrative. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

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