The first eleven chapters of Zora Neale Hurston’s Dust Tracks on a Road are roughly chronological. Zora is born in Eatonville, Florida, the first all-black town to be incorporated in the United States and where her father serves three terms as mayor. As one of eight children, she grows up in an eight-room house in Eatonville with a five-acre garden and ample opportunities for childhood play. One day in school, when two wealthy white women are visiting, Zora reads flawlessly and is rewarded with boxes of books to read—particularly tales of Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology—thereby advancing her education and stimulating her ability to imagine new worlds.
Zora’s mother also encourages her to excel and to maintain a spunky spirit. Accordingly, when Zora’s mother dies young, the child suffers grief and remorse, believing that the first phase of her life has ended; she is sent away to school in Jacksonville. When her father quickly remarries—this time to a much younger woman—Zora clashes frequently with her stepmother, whom she regards as an interloper. Eager to live independently, Zora finds employment as a maid, first briefly for a family and then for one year with a singer from Boston who works in a traveling theatrical troupe. These job experiences provide her with greater maturity and self-confidence.
Settling in Baltimore, Zora resumes her education in the high school department of Morgan College, where she excels sufficiently to earn admission to prestigious Howard University in Washington, D.C. Although Zora is unable to keep up with tuition payments after two years, she encounters several influential faculty members who encourage her to publish short stories, which propel her to a scholarship at Barnard College in New York and employment as a secretary to Fannie Hurst. While at Barnard, she becomes a protégé of Franz Boas, who arranges a fellowship that enables Zora to study African American folklore in the South. Her subsequent fieldwork is funded largely by Charlotte Louise Mason, a wealthy white patron with a Park Avenue apartment. This...
(The entire section is 859 words.)