Dust Tracks on a Road

by Zora Neale Hurston

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What does Hurston's phrase "I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife" mean?

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More specifically, the quote comes from the personal essay "How It Feels to be Colored Me." Hurston makes the comment in the context of other writers' attitudes toward their blackness at the time in which the essay was written—1928, at the tail-end of the Harlem Renaissance. She says that she does not belong to "the sobbing school of Negrohood," which assumes that her color has given her a raw deal in life. For her, her blackness, as well as her womanhood, is an aspect of her wonderful being. Hurston says that she does not "weep at the world" because she is "too busy sharpening her oyster knife."

As the previous educator mentions, the comment is likely a play on the expression "the world is your oyster." However, Hurston's choice of this expression also alludes to the world's complexity. An oyster is a difficult thing to open, just as the world is sometimes a difficult thing to understand; but, it contains something delectable, if only one is willing to work to get to it. For Hurston, part of that work is being open to experience and not allowing other people's ideas about her to determine who she is and how she moves throughout the world. She is, instead, "sharpening her oyster knife," which suggests a determination to get to the good things that await her.

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This quote comes from Zora Neale Hurston's autobiography Dust Tracks on a Road. When Hurston says that she is too busy sharpening her oyster knife, she means that she is too focused on her optimistic search for a happy and positive life to feel "burdened" by her blackness.

This quote refers to the expression "the world is your oyster," which is an expression of encouragement often said to a person who is able to access all the opportunities the world has to offer. The oyster knife is a metaphor for the tools Hurston needs to be able to live in the world. She would rather spend her time sharpening the knife that will enable her to open the oyster than to spend her time worrying about the oyster being shut too tightly. This quote is an example of Hurston's flamboyant and colorful writing style as well as her characteristic resistance to the notion that black men and women must be victims of white society.

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