Themes

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 378

Hope and Fear

Hurston’s short story presents race relations differently to other novels of the time, such as Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry.

Isis is portrayed as possessing a joyous confidence, very much belying the condition of fear and oppression endured by most black people of the Author’s America....

(The entire section contains 908 words.)

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Hope and Fear

Hurston’s short story presents race relations differently to other novels of the time, such as Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry.

Isis is portrayed as possessing a joyous confidence, very much belying the condition of fear and oppression endured by most black people of the Author’s America. Isis’s confidence is shown as stemming from the rural, communal conditions in which she lives, in the town of Aetonville, a community organized and run by black people. White people too are portrayed in a more favorable light in this text than in many of those produced by Hurston’s black contemporaries. The white couple Isis meets are shown as mild and open-minded, delighting in their new friend while expressing curiosity as to who she is as a person. In the case of the white woman especially, there is also a sense of admiration for Isis's self-assurance, an attribute that this woman appears to lack despite her financial and intellectual achievements.

Industry and Expression

The most salient aspect of Isis’s character in this short story is her expressiveness. Initially in how she interacts with passersby on the road, and subsequently in her dancing with the parade, and her playing in the woods, she embodies the creative flare and freedom characteristic of the Harlem renaissance.

Her grandmother, in her insistence that Isis perform menial chores, and in the store she sets in her table cloth as a material possession and financial investment aligns her with the theory of Booker T. Washington who, in the early years of the twentieth century urged black people to focus on developing menial skills as opposed to intellectual or artistic pursuits.

Simplicity

Drenched in Light has been accused of lacking sophistication and plot development, a charge which misses the point of the story. The story’s short length, together with its apparent lack of direction mirror the experience of Isis the carefree child living each hour as it comes in a secure and nurturing environment. Her approach to life seems more improvised than planned, mirroring those forms of cultural expression such as jazz music which gained popularity during the Harlem renaissance, and which Hurston felt were just as valuable as more regimented forms of artistic expression practiced by white society.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 530

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 her 1942 autobiography Dust Tracks on a Road. “Drenched in Light” was originally published in 1924 in Opportunity magazine, a publication that articulated the philosophy and expression of the Harlem Renaissance. It was Hurston’s first nationally published story, the story that introduced this passionate writer with “the map of Florida on her tongue” to literary New York.

The setting of “Drenched in Light” is the remarkable town of Eatonville, Florida, Hurston’s own hometown. Eatonville, a tiny township in central Florida, was organized, incorporated, and governed by black people. It was an unusual place in the early twentieth century, a town in which an intelligent black child could grow up with self-esteem intact, free from the sense of second-class citizenship common in American southern black life. Eatonville was a cradle of community and folk culture, a bottomless source of stories. The safety of her family and the rich community life of Eatonville provided Hurston with her strong sense of self-confidence, the self-confidence that she transfers to her young protagonist Isis. Eatonville was Hurston’s primary subject thoughout her career of writing fiction and collecting and preserving folklore.

The story is not complex. Critics consider it immature, lacking in plot development and dramatic suspense. Its structure is based on its theme and purpose, which is to address both black self-pity and white paternalism and acknowledge and celebrate Hurston’s unusual upbringing in Eatonville as the source of her own self-confidence and sense of self. Hurston felt strongly that her life had been graced in singular ways specifically because she was black and came from a remarkable enclave of southern black culture and community, nurtured on family and folklore. Her goal in writing “Drenched in Light” was to express that grace in fiction.

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