Dust Tracks on a Road Characters

The main characters in Dust Tracks on a Road are Zora Neale Hurston, Mama, and Papa.

  • Zora Neale Hurston, the author and narrator, is a black writer and anthropologist.
  • Mama is Zora’s mother, a positive force in Zora’s life who passed away when Zora was nine.
  • Papa, a preacher and Zora’s father, was neglectful of her, especially after Mama’s death.


Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on April 20, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1364

Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston is the author of the 1942 autobiography Dust Tracks on a Road, which examines her life thus far. A writer, folklorist, and anthropologist who rose to prominence during the Harlem Renaissance, Hurston is best-known for her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. Dust Tracks on a Road recounts her childhood of poverty growing up in a family of eight children in rural Florida and follows her to the present day.

Illustration of PDF document

Download Dust Tracks on a Road Study Guide

Subscribe Now

As a child, Zora was highly imaginative and hungry to learn about the world and understand people’s unique cultural perspectives. Zora grew up relatively isolated, in an all-black community, but she had a deep-seated need to explore the world around her and expand her horizons. She developed in interest in documenting the lives of people by observing groups of men at the local store, where they gathered to talk about race, politics, and religion. She also developed a love for books, particularly myths and folklore from other cultures.

After years spent working and finishing school, Zora developed a respected writing career, spending time with black artists and writers and learning under the tutelage of anthropologist Franz Boas. While working with Boas, Zora continued building her skills as a writer and an observer of people and cultures. Her anthropological research and fiction often examine the lives and stories of black people in Southern and Caribbean communities.


Mama was a positive and accepting force in Zora’s life. She encouraged Zora to pursue her dreams and didn’t criticize her endless storytelling, whereas Zora’s grandmother and father condemned her creative inclinations. The heaviness of Mama’s death changed Zora’s life, and it marked the beginning of an era in which Zora had to fight for her survival.

The fact that Mama frequently quarreled with Papa symbolizes the contrasting messages Zora received from each of her parents. Whereas Mama encouraged Zora, Papa discouraged her. Somehow, Mama loved and stayed married to Papa in spite of their differences. Her commitment to Papa may have enabled Zora to develop empathy, understanding, and forgiveness for those who were not like her.

Without Mama’s encouragement, Zora may not have lived such a successful life. Regardless, it is clear that Zora’s formative years were bolstered by her matriarch—and that Zora emulated Mama’s strength throughout her own life.


Papa was an influential father figure for Zora, but not in a positive way. He frequently belittled Zora and clearly preferred her other siblings, particularly her sister Sarah. Papa was a preacher who rained fire and brimstone from the pulpit. Zora was at once drawn to the dramatic flourishes and repelled by the rigid teachings of the church. Her disdain for organized religion may be synonymous with her disdain for her unloving father, although Zora does not speak much ill of him in this autobiography.

Papa rejected Zora on multiple occasions. Two of the most memorable rejections occurred when Papa refused to pick Zora up from boarding school and when he sided with his second wife over the issue of Mama’s featherbed. These rejections prompted Zora to leave home, which caused her much heartache but eventually led her to academic success.

Papa died while Zora was away at Morgan College. His death is mentioned in the book as an afterthought. This stands in contrast to the much larger segment of the book devoted to...

(The entire section contains 1364 words.)

Unlock This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this Dust Tracks on a Road study guide. You'll get access to all of the Dust Tracks on a Road content, as well as access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

  • Summary
  • Chapter Summaries
  • Themes
  • Characters
  • Analysis
  • Critical Essays
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial