illustrated portrait of African American author Zora Neale Hurston

How It Feels to Be Colored Me

by Zora Neale Hurston

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What is the overall tone in Hurston's essay "How It Feels to Be Colored Me" and which descriptive phrases establish this tone?

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In "How It Feels to be Colored Me," Hurston's tone is upbeat and even defiant. She uses a number of fresh, vivid descriptions to relate how she feels about her identity and her uniqueness. Though other people insist that being black presents overwhelming difficulty, Hurston writes in a particularly strong descriptive passage, "No, I do not weep at the world—I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife." She uses the metaphor of eating oysters to imply that she is enjoying life, as oysters are a delicacy. By creating the image of sharpening her knife, she injects a note of defiance into the metaphor.

At the end of the essay, she creates the strong vivid image of herself as a brown bag:

But in the main, I feel like a brown bag of miscellany propped against a wall. Against a wall in company with other bags, white, red and yellow. Pour out the contents, and there is discovered a jumble of small things priceless and worthless.

By creating the image of a bag filled with miscellany that is both priceless and worthless, she suggests that she an individual, like all other people. The brownness is just the color of the bag, or skin, that coats her on the outside. Inside, there is a jumble that represents her individuality. By using strong, vivid descriptions, Hurston insists that she is unique, an individual, who is not defined by the color of her skin.

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Hurston's essay "How It Feels to Be Colored Me" conveys strength, empowerment, and pride. 

Throughout "How It Feels to Be Colored Me," Hurston uses descriptive language to help send her message. For example, toward the middle of the essay, she states: 

But I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all. I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a low-down dirty deal and whose feelings are all hurt about it. 

Hurston is comparing herself to other "colored" people. Other people might be angry or depressed at their status in life; Hurston refuses to have those thoughts and feelings. Instead, she is determined to show a quiet pride in herself because, ultimately, there is nothing wrong with her. 

Another strong moment where Hurston uses descriptive language is when she is at the music club with a white friend. In that part, she states:

I am in the jungle and living in the jungle way. My face is painted red and yellow, and my body is painted blue. My pulse is throbbing like a war drum.

It shows exactly how Hurston experiences the music in the club, giving the readers a vivid description so they can easily put themselves in her shoes and feel right along with her. It's a direct contrast to how her white friend hears the music:

...find the white friend sitting motionless in his seat, smoking calmly...He has only heard what I felt.

Just as she knows the white people don't understand her, she is explaining how she doesn't understand them, either. It baffles Hurston that someone can hear music of that caliber and still be so calm and collected. She's trying to prove that people aren't so different, after all.

Through her words and descriptive language, Hurston's tone in "How It Feels to Be Colored Me" is one of quiet strength, empowerment, and pride in herself.

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