Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Zora Neale Hurston’s purpose in this story is to portray Isis as a child who is “drenched in light,” who lives every moment of her life to the fullest, rather than as a tragically disadvantaged poor black child. The white lady recognizes that she lacks what Isis has. Though well-to-do and evidently cultured, this white lady desires and envies the light, sunshine, and sense of herself that Isis naturally exudes. The implication is that Isis’s joy is cultural, deriving from her family and her rural, communal surroundings, and that white people lack this culture of joy.

Hurston was a writer who recognized and celebrated the rich indigenous black folk culture of her home state, Florida. “Drenched in Light,” one of her earliest published short stories, is a statement of cultural identity and self-confidence. This affirmation of her origins and the parallel refusal to accept white culture as superior to southern black folk life were Hurston’s primary contributions to the movement of black art, music, and voice in the 1920’s and 1930’s known as the Harlem Renaissance.

Hurston wrote the story while she was a student at Howard University in Washington, D.C. It is thinly veiled autobiography. Clearly she is Isis, the child gifted with natural intelligence and grace. The grandmother in the story is named after Hurston’s own grandmother, and Hurston’s childhood habit of sitting on the gatepost and hailing passers-by is recalled in...

(The entire section is 530 words.)