Chapters 1–5 Summary

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Last Reviewed on April 17, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1447

Chapter 1: My Birthplace

Zora Neale Hurston introduces herself briefly before delving into the history of Eatonville, Florida, her hometown. To understand her life, she argues that the reader must first understand her roots.

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Zora explains how Eatonville, the first American town governed completely by blacks, came to exist. After the Civil War ended, three white veteran officers decided to settle in southern Florida. These men established the town of Maitland, Florida, bringing friends and family to help populate the area and former slaves to help develop the area. Black men performed much of the labor required to advance Maitland: chopping trees, constructing buildings, and laying down railroad tracks.

As the railroad pumped travelers and tourists through Maitland, the town’s wealth and prosperity grew. Black and white people lived harmoniously in the town, though most of the black population lived in shacks near a tiny lake called St. John’s Hole, while white people lived along the three-mile stretch of glorious Lake Maitland.

The town’s first mayor was a black man named Tony Taylor. Another black man, Joe Clarke, assumed the role of town marshal. Clarke proposed to Maitland’s founders that the black people there should have their own town. The founders agreed and purchased a strip of land just west of Maitland for that purpose.

On August 18, 1886, the black town of Eatonville was established. At the close of this chapter, Zora muses that white Maitland and black Eatonville coexisted peacefully for fifty-six years before “the stars fell,” alluding to the start of World War II in 1942.

Chapter 2: My Folks

Zora introduces readers to her parents. Her father, John Hurston, was a “mulatto” man who grew up in poor conditions—“over the creek,” Zora notes, “which was just like saying on the wrong side of the railroad tracks”—in Alabama. Dreaming of a better life for himself and his wife, Lucy, the couple moved to Florida and settled in Eatonville.

Zora was born into a family of eight children in Eatonville. She lived on a beautiful piece of land with “two big chinaberry trees shading the front gate and Cape jasmine bushes with hundreds of blooms on either side of the walks.” The sights and sounds of nature left indelible marks on her memory, but while making memories of the lush outdoors, Zora was also making memories of social dynamics, including observations of the people she knew.

Mama was a petite and strong-willed woman, and Papa was a proud and boastful man. The two fought often, and at times it seemed their marriage was crumbling, but they never divorced. Mama taught the eight Hurston children at home, passing on the grammar and arithmetic lessons she’d learned as a child. She encouraged her children to “jump at de sun,” meaning they should be their own people and set their sights high. Papa wasn’t as encouraging as Mama was; he had his career as a traveling minister and his role as a community influencer to occupy him.

Chapter 3: I Get Born

When it came time for Mama to give birth to Zora, the midwife (known as Aunt Judy) was nowhere to be found. Mama labored and gave birth to Zora alone, but shortly after Zora entered the world, a white man heard a baby crying and stopped in to check on the Hurston family. He cut Zora’s umbilical cord with his knife and assisted with other tasks until the midwife finally arrived.

At age one, Zora still could not walk. That changed one day when Mama left Zora alone in the house, on the kitchen floor. A large sow wandered in, prompting baby Zora to pull herself up to her feet beside a chair. After the incident with the sow, which could have proven fatal for Zora if the sow had been so inclined, Zora recalls that she “took to wandering.” She muses that from then on, it seemed...

(The entire section contains 1447 words.)

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