Dust Tracks on a Road Summary

Dust Tracks on a Road is an autobiography by Zora Neale Hurston that chronicles her personal life and professional growth as a writer, folklorist, and anthropologist.

  • Zora was raised in Eatonville, Florida, the first “incorporated” black town in the US.
  • When Zora was nine, her mother died. Zora was sent to boarding school in Jacksonville, after which she struck out on her own.
  • Zora took a position with a traveling theater production. Afterward, she finished high school and went on to study philosophy and anthropology in college.
  • Zora pursued her folkloric research and published several short stories and books.

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Last Updated on April 17, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 728

Dust Tracks on a Road is the autobiography of writer and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston, published in 1942. The book traces events from her childhood, schooling, and professional pursuits. Romantic love figured prominently in her life, but she spends just one chapter describing it because she prefers to remain private...

(The entire section contains 728 words.)

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Dust Tracks on a Road is the autobiography of writer and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston, published in 1942. The book traces events from her childhood, schooling, and professional pursuits. Romantic love figured prominently in her life, but she spends just one chapter describing it because she prefers to remain private about it, saying, “Ladies do not kiss and tell.”

Zora begins the book with a description of her hometown of Eatonville, Florida. Situated to the west of the town of Maitland, Eatonville was the first American city to be governed completely by black people. The residents of Eatonville and the largely white population of Maitland coexisted peacefully as neighbors.

Zora was a headstrong and imaginative child who dwelled in a fantasy world most of the time. She was inventing stories before she could write them. The autobiography details many of her childhood fictions, from the elaborate soap opera–like story she weaved about her corncob doll to the sinister tale of Mr. Pendir, a neighbor who, according to Zora’s fantasies, led a double life as an alligator.

As a child, Zora shared a close bond with Mama, but her relationship with Papa was strained. Papa whipped her, belittled her, and favored her sister Sarah. Mama died when Zora was nine. Papa sent Zora to boarding school in Jacksonville, where she grieved deeply but flourished academically.

When it was time for Zora to come home from school, Papa didn’t send for her. Instead, he told the school that they could “adopt” Zora. Nevertheless, Zora found her way home, where she butted heads with her new stepmother. Papa chose his new wife over his daughter, so Zora left. For the next several years, she drifted between the houses of relatives and friends.

When she was fourteen, Zora attempted to find work to support herself. She moved through a string of live-in jobs, but none of them satisfied her. She missed having the opportunity to read and yearned for academic challenges, though she did enjoy most of the people that she met along the way.

Zora eventually took a job in a doctor’s office, but she didn’t stay long. Her brother Bob invited her to come live with him, promising to pay for her schooling. Eager to resume her studies, Zora moved in with Bob and his family. Bob broke his promise about paying for schooling, so Zora took a job as a lady’s maid with a touring musical theater group. The experience built her confidence and taught her a lot about music and life.

When the tour ended, Zora finished high school and went on to college at Howard University, a prestigious historically black college. When money for college ran out, she moved to New York City to immerse herself in the literary culture of the Harlem Renaissance. She took a job as Fannie Hurst’s secretary and finished her studies at Barnard College.

A failed marriage followed her graduation from Barnard. Zora threw herself into her research studying the folklore and culture of black communities in the US and Caribbean. In the throes of her work, she fell madly in love with A.W.P., but the pair struggled to make their relationship work.

Zora pursued research in the southern US, the Bahamas, the British West Indies, and Haiti. She drew on these experiences to write several acclaimed novels, including her best-known work, Their Eyes Were Watching God.

The last several chapters of the book are less a timeline of Zora’s life and more a reflection on her joys and struggles. She uses the saying “My people! My people!” to shine a light on the racial hypocrisy she has witnessed in black culture throughout her life. She speaks tenderly of her friendships with two particular women, writer Fannie Hurst and singer Ethel Waters. She shares a bit of detail about two major love interests in her life: her first husband and A.W.P. She details her struggles with organized religion and expresses a faith that seems to have been borne out of her own analysis rather than the church.

At the end of the book, Zora extends a sentiment of love and acceptance to her readers and all people. Neither her race nor her academic achievements define her, she says. It is her humanity, and the humanity of others, that gives her peace.

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