Dust Tracks on a Road Themes

The main themes in Dust Tracks on a Road are hope, racial hypocrisy, and religion and God.

  • Hope: Zora Neale Hurston’s autobiography highlights the importance of determination and continued hope for the future.
  • Racial hypocrisy: Zora describes discrimination within the black community and shares her belief that all humans are the same, regardless of race.
  • Religion and God: Though she does not adhere to an organized religion, Zora considers religion often and has faith in meaning after death.


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Last Updated on April 20, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1095


Hope, for Zora Neale Hurston, was a life strategy. She used it to get what she wanted. She learned about hope from Mama, a central figure in Zora’s young life who encouraged Zora to “jump at de sun.” In other words, Mama told Zora to follow her dreams regardless of how impossible they seemed.

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Mama embodied hope, and the relationship between Mama and Zora was a close one. Papa, on the other hand, embodied discouragement. He disparaged Zora’s dreams, refusing to give her music lessons when she asked for them and accusing her of “always trying to wear de big hat” when she requested a horse for Christmas. Papa felt that Zora, as a black girl, should only aspire to a certain level and then stop. Not surprisingly, the relationship between Papa and Zora was a strained one.

Although Mama died when Zora was just nine, Zora held on to Mama’s encouraging words throughout life. Her dreams propelled her forward, and she fulfilled each one: attending high school, finishing college, researching black folklore, putting on a concert of authentic black music, writing short stories and books. Readers see Zora reach for a serving of hope whenever she struggles. For example, when Zora’s tour with Miss M—— came to an end, she “took a firm grip” on hope, calling it “the only weapon that I had.” When she dropped out of Howard University for lack of funds and moved to New York City with “$1.50, no job, no friends, and a lot of hope,” she was again drawing on the gift Mama imparted to her as a child: the gift of hope.

Hope didn’t always have a positive outcome, but Zora still used it to move forward. As a student in Jacksonville, she thought for a brief moment that a woman she saw rocking on a porch was Mama. She allowed herself to hope, for just a sliver of time, that Mama wasn’t really dead. This hope was dashed, of course, but in her disappointment, Zora managed to move forward. She says that “the hope that the woman really was my mother passed. I accepted my bereavement.” By accepting her mother’s death, Zora was able to move on with her own life and continue pursuing her dreams.

Racial Hypocrisy

Zora struggled with the hypocrisy she saw in the black community over the value of her race. According to her definition of “Race Solidarity,” black people should stick together, defending one another and shielding each other from oppression. Zora looked closely and saw that this was not the case. She laments in the chapter “My People! My People!” that black people often did more to tear each other down than to build each other up.

As a youngster, Zora heard black men in her community give speeches about the nobility of their race. She heard other black people praise these speeches. The problem was, these same people would turn around and talk about blacks in a derogatory manner, calling them “niggers” and “monkeys.” She could not make sense of the hypocrisy.

Zora was still struggling with the issue when she first thought to write Jonah’s Gourd Vine . She wanted to write a novel characterized not by race but by the humanity of its characters. She says, “What I wanted to tell was a story about a man, and from what I had read and heard, Negroes were supposed to write about the Race Problem. I was and am thoroughly sick of the...

(The entire section contains 1095 words.)

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