In her autobiography, Hurston clearly decided to create her own version of the story of her life. From her early years, certain themes appear through the imagery that she chooses. Her curiosity is a major aspect of her personality, from her childhood explorations of her town to her later descriptions of her love of research, which she defines as “formalized curiosity.” This curiosity is insatiable, as she describes it, and leads to the need to explore even when it interferes with her personal life. Her curiosity leads her to a wandering life full of adventures in which she portrays herself always as the star.
One of the telling incidents of Hurston’s life is the death of her mother. She believed that her life was forever changed and writes that the moment was the end of one phase of her life and the beginning of her wanderings and explorations beyond her home environment. She casts herself in her life’s play as a very independent woman, one who only accepts help from others when it is her due and who works hard to achieve her goals. She describes herself as intelligent, fun-loving and hu-morous, and quite stubborn. Although Hurston tells stories that show her weaknesses, she usually emerges victorious, whether in encounters with her family members or in the field on her research trips.
One of the puzzling aspects of the book is her discussion of racial issues. At times, Hurston sounds like an ardent Black Nationalist, yet most of the book portrays her life as relatively free of any racial incidents. Nothing of this nature is mentioned in the entire book, though, growing up in the South of the early twentieth century, she must have seen or heard of such incidents. Furthermore, all the white people mentioned in the book treat her well and kindly, from the white man who helps in her delivery to the mentors and patrons of her adulthood. It may be that Hurston excluded any hint of discrimination because she wanted her book to be read by a white audience; on the other hand, she may have believed that she did not receive enough appreciation from her African-American audience and used her autobiography to chastise them.
Woven throughout the book is Hurston’s love of language, from the images that she creates of herself in “Sorrow’s kitchen” where she “licked out all the pots” to standing “on the peaky mountain wrapped in rainbows, with a harp and a sword in my hands.” Her eye for detail and her careful recording of incidents join with her playful use of language to carry readers from one tale to the next. Some critics have wondered whether she was a folklorist who wrote fiction or a novelist who incorporated folklore into her fiction. She has the strengths of both fields and marries the two traditions in a unique manner, even within her autobiography.