Historical Context

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 519

Cultural Pride
The period of the 1920s was marked by a boom in economic prosperity followed by a stock market crash in 1929 and a depression lasting well into the next decade. "The Eatonville Anthology," published in 1926, describes a black community in the South and touches little upon affairs outside of the community. Mentioning the World War in Section XI gives readers some historical context, but the main focus of the story is on Eatonville and its residents. Racial conflicts, economic hardships, and other issues are not major themes in the story. The story captures the traditions and lore of Eatonville's people in its brief sketches, and Hurston's pride in her African-American heritage is clearly evident. Her use of dialect in the story, and her description of customs and folklore provide readers with a piece of Eatonville's history.

Illustration of PDF document

Download The Eatonville Anthology Study Guide

Subscribe Now

The Great Migration
During the period of 1910-1950, many blacks moved from the agricultural South to the industrial North in an effort to secure jobs. This "Great Migration'' was opposed by the white power structure in the South. Needing the labor that black sharecroppers provided, states such as Alabama and Mississippi attempted to prevent blacks from leaving. However, cities such as Detroit, New York, and Chicago received hundreds of thousands of black immigrants who migrated North in hopes of finding economic prosperity and less oppressive conditions than those existing in the South. Harlem became a haven for many blacks fleeing the South, and the city experienced a cultural awakening known as the ' 'Harlem Renaissance.''

Harlem Renaissance
The Harlem Renaissance was the first intellectual and artistic movement that brought African-American writers and artists to the attention of the entire nation. Critics mark the defining event of the Harlem Renaissance as the 1925 publication of The New Negro: An Interpretation, an anthology edited by Alain Locke. The major force of the movement was generated from a large group of black artists who lived in New York during the 1920s. This gathering of artists and intellectuals led to an outburst of literary, artistic, and musical work that began to receive widespread recognition and critical appraisal. African-American writers in this group included: Langston Hughes, poet, novelist, and playwright; Jean Toomer, author of the distinguished collection of poetry and poetic prose entitled Cane; the poets Countee Cullen and Claude McKay; the novelists Eric Waldron and Zora Neale Hurston; and the poet and novelist Arna Bontemps, who was to become the historian of the movement.

Folklore and Tradition
After graduating from Barnard College in New York City, Hurston returned to Eatonville to study her townspeople. As an anthropologist, she treasured the myths, legends, and folklore that combined to create the unique African-American culture. Hurston's cultural pride and anthropological interests fused in her fiction. She recorded the voice of her native townspeople in an authentic manner, effectively capturing the mood, speech patterns, attitudes, and customs of Eatonville. Today, one of the most noted features of Hurston's fiction is her use of the African-American dialect in the speech of her characters. The movement toward declaring and preserving black pride and identity that began in the 1920s continues to grow.

Literary Style

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 636

Point of View
"The Eatonville Anthology" is an excellent example of those literary texts in which the narrative exists primarily to demonstrate forms of traditional oral narration. The work consists of fourteen parts based loosely on folktales, jokes, and the author's childhood memories. The thirteenth piece appears unfinished, whether by authorial intent or publishing error. Although each of these stories is itself a separate tale, the impression given is that the narrator is a member of the community and is conveying a running history of Eatonville. The sense that this history has been an accepted part of the town's culture for many years is also conveyed in the text. Despite this, the final narrative impression is that of a third-person, objective observer.

"The Eatonville Anthology" is broken into fourteen separate stones. Originally, an anthology was a collection of short poems. Today an anthology consists of any collection of poems, stories, songs, or excerpts, which are chosen by a compiler, usually an editor. In this case, the narrator functions as the editor because he or she has chosen which stories to tell.

Local Color
The term "local color" refers to the way a writer exploits the speech, dress, mannerisms, habits of thought, and topography specific to a certain geographical region in an attempt to portray a community as realistically as possible. The Florida community of Eatonville and its townspeople were the models for Hurston's factual and fictitious tales in the ''Anthology.'' In addition to the recognizable Florida landscape and landmarks that fill the stories, Hurston contributes realistic voices to her narrative by reproducing as precisely as possible the sounds of the spoken dialect used in this 1920s African-American rural community.

Signifying as a Literary Device
"Signifying" is a literary device of great interest to Henry Louis Gates, Jr., a renowned critic and scholar. His complete investigation and explanation of this literary phenomenon is found in his seminal text, The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African-American Literary Criticism. The concept of signifying has been defined by Rita Hooks as ''rhetorical games played out in the black vernacular tradition.'' Signifying has also been called ''playing the dozens"—a contest in which people insult each other to gain an upper hand—and "specifying." Signifying combines all three levels of storytelling; relating a story, exaggerating, and downright lying, into a complex narrative design. The storyteller consciously manipulates the narrative and the audience and "signifies on" them by tacking the audience with different levels of meaning. Signifying is often used to rectify an imbalance of power. By writing about the community of Eatonville, Hurston is not simply relating local legends and folktales, but also preserving history. The Eatonville residents play the dozens with each other and exaggerate tales about their neighbors. For example, Mr. McDuffy insults his wife by telling her "there's no sense in her shouting, as big a devil as she is." He also says that "his fist was just as hard as her head." Section VII of "Anthology" describes several residents of the town who are great liars. One resident contends, for example, that he witnessed a doctor remove all the organs of a patient and then reinstall them without any harm to her at all. These exchanges of insults and exaggerations run throughout the story, and Hurston uses the characters who signify on each other to make a larger point. Her interest in anthropology—the study of human beings, social relations, and culture—is reflected in "The Eatonville Anthology." Hurston's combination of African-American folklore, anthropological concerns, and childhood memories in "Anthology" enables the story to record history, study a culture, and comment on relations between people all at the same time. By disguising such a study within the form of simple stories, Hurston has employed the literary device of signifying in "Anthology" to great effect.

Bibliography and Further Reading

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 162

"Conjure Into Being: Zora Neale Hurston's 'Their Eyes Were Watching God'," on Rita Hooks' homepage, St. Petersboro Junior College, http://www.splavc.spjc.cc.us/hooks/ Zorasig.html, 1997.

Cornwell, JoAnne. "Searching for Zora in Alice's Garden: Rites of Passage in Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God and Walker's The Third Life of Grange Copeland, " in Alice Walker and Zora Neale Hurston: The Common Bond, edited by Lill P. Howard, Greenwood Press, 1993, pp. 97-107.

Foreman, P. Gabrielle ''Looking Back from Zora, or Talking Out Both Sides My Mouth for Those Who Have Two Ears," in Black American Literature Forum, Volume 24, no, 4,1990, pp. 649-666.

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. and Sieglinde Lemke. "Introduction," in The Complete Stories, by Zora Neale Hurston, HarperCollins, 1995, pp. ix-xxiii.

Hemenway, Robert E. Zora Neale Hurston- A Literary Biography, University of Illinois, 1980.

Walker, Alice. "Foreword," in I Love Myself When I Am Laughing . And Then Again When I Am Looking Mean and Impressive. A Zora Neale Hurston Reader, Feminist Press, 1979.

Compare and Contrast

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 172

1920s: In 1920, Marcus Garvey organizes the first Universal Negro Improvement Association which opens with 25,000 delegates in attendance, and Garvey begins to promote his ' 'back to Africa" movement.

1990s: On October 16, 1995, Louis Farrakhan organizes the Million Man March in Washington, D.C. Hundreds of thousands of men gather on the Mall in a demonstration of unity, pride and brotherhood.

1920: Women's suffrage is proclaimed in effect August 26 following Tennessee's ratification of the nineteenth amendment.

1990s: In 1991 Anita Hill charges that Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas made indecent remarks to her eight years earlier while he served on the Equal Opportunity Commission. Sexual harassment in the workplace becomes a focus of national attention.

1920s: The National Woman's party meets in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1922 and endorses an Equal Rights Amendment drafted by founder Alice Paul.

1990s: Though the Equal Rights Amendment was never ratified, women such as Loida N. Lewis, the chairperson and CEO of Beatrice International, a company with $2.1 billion in revenues, continue to assume important roles in business, politics, and culture.

Media Adaptations

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 47

Zora Is My Name! is based on the life of Zora Neale Hurston, and stars Ruby Dee and Louis Gossett, Jr. Originally aired as a part of PBS's American Playhouse series, this 90-minute production is available for purchase through PBS Home Video, Karol Video, Facets Multimedia, Inc.

Unlock This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-hour free trial

Critical Essays


Teaching Guide

Explore Study Guides