How It Feels to Be Colored Me by Zora Neale Hurston

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What happens in How It Feels to Be Colored Me?

In "How It Feels to Be Colored Me," Zora Neale Hurston describes her experiences as an African American woman in early 20th Century America. She describes people as different colored bags, all of which are filled with the random bits of things that make up life.

  • Raised in an all-black community in Florida, Hurston did not have much reason to consider her race until she left home at age thirteen to go to boarding school in Jacksonville. In Eatonville, her hometown, Hurston was, “everybody’s Zora,” but when she got to Jacksonville, her race was no longer invisible to her, because the city was more diverse, “I was not Zora of Orange County any more, I was now a little colored girl.”

  • Hurston recounts a number of experiences where she has “felt her race.” At college in Barnard, she was “a dark rock surged upon, overswept by a creamy sea.” She also describes a time she went to a jazz club with a white friend, and while she found herself deeply affected by the music, her white friend was not similarly affected, which Hurston chalks up to their racial difference. Despite her position as a black woman, in this essay, Hurston does not engage in self-pity, but takes racial difference and discrimination in stride.

  • Hurston uses the metaphor of colored bags to describe what people are like: bags full of hopes, desires, disappointments, and the stuff of life. If you were to dump these bags out, everyone would be more or less the same, regardless of the color of their skin/bag.

 

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Summary

“How It Feels to Be Colored Me” is a widely anthologized descriptive essay in which Zora Neale Hurston explores the discovery of her identity and self-pride. Following the conventions of description, Hurston employs colorful diction, imagery, and figurative language to take the reader on this journey. Using a conversational tone and multiple colloquialisms, Hurston at the beginning of the essay delves into her childhood in Eatonville, Florida, through anecdotes describing moments when she greeted neighbors, sang and danced in the streets, and viewed her surroundings from a comfortable spot on her front porch. Back then, she was “everybody’s Zora,” free from the alienating feeling of difference. However, when she was thirteen her mother passed away, and she left home to attend a boarding school in Jacksonville where she immediately became "colored."

Hurston says she does not consider herself “tragically colored” and begins weaving together extended metaphors that suggest her self-pride. She is too busy “sharpening her oyster knife” to stop to think about the pain that discrimination may cause, and as a “dark rock surged upon” she emerges all the stronger for any hardships that she has had to endure. Hurston does, however, acknowledge...

(The entire section is 440 words.)