illustrated portrait of African American author Zora Neale Hurston

How It Feels to Be Colored Me

by Zora Neale Hurston

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Student Question

What are the specific elements of the final paragraph of "How It Feels to Be Colored Me"?

Quick answer:

The final paragraph of "How It Feels to Be Colored Me" is an extended simile, containing subsidiary metaphors and other visual imagery, illustrating a rhetorical argument.

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The final paragraph of "How It Feels to Be Colored Me" is an extended simile, in which Zora Neale Hurston compares herself to a "brown bag of miscellany propped against a wall" and other people to other bags of various different colors.

The simile contains a great deal of subsidiary visual imagery, first in the colors of the bags propped against the wall, then in the physical descriptions of the objects they contain. These objects themselves, "priceless and worthless," are metaphors for the qualities hidden inside human beings, which bear no relation to the exterior. Individual readers will have different ideas about which objects relate to which qualities. The first-water diamond must be something valuable and widely valued. The bits of broken glass are perhaps superficially attractive, as they glitter like jewels, but are really worthless and dangerous.

The final piece of imagery is that of God as "the Great Stuffer of Bags," giving people qualities without regard to their outward appearance. Hurston concludes by asking, rhetorically, who knows how the Great Stuffer of Bags originally assigned these qualities. However, she has already made her principal point that they are, in any case, filled as she describes. The elements of simile, metaphor, and other visual imagery initially hide the structure of Hurston's rhetorical argument, that people of different colors have similar qualities, and that one cannot tell the qualities from the color.

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What is the main point of "How It Feels To Be Colored Me"?

The principal point Zora Neale Hurston makes in "How It Feels To Be Colored Me" is that she is not a victim of oppression. Hurston acknowledges that racism exists, but says that she refuses to allow it to be her problem. She sees it, instead, as a character flaw which principally hurts the racists, remarking:

Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company?

Hurston even says that she is not affected by the memory of slavery, which she feels must be far more burdensome to white people, who have to live with the guilt, than to the descendants of slaves. Slavery was the price of being brought to civilization, she writes, and it was a price worth paying, for her, if not necessarily for her ancestors.

Throughout the essay, Hurston contrasts her own positive, optimistic, curious attitude with that of "the sobbing school of Negrohood." She gives a brief account of her childhood, and recalls her first encounters with white people when she was a child. These people were kind to her, and used to give her money for song and dance performances which she enjoyed so much that she would have had to be paid to stop. Her experiences since have convinced her that color has nothing to do with character or destiny, and that her own African-American identity presents no barrier to the enjoyment of life.

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