How It Feels to Be Colored Me Summary
by Zora Neale Hurston

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How It Feels to Be Colored Me Summary

In "How It Feels to Be Colored Me," Zora Neale Hurston describes her experiences as an African American woman in early 20th Century America.

  • Raised in an all-black community in Florida, Hurston did not have much reason to consider her race until she left home.

  • Hurston recounts a number of experiences where she has “felt her race” since then.

  • 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 their color.

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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 moments when she feels her (or others’) racial difference, and her experience with a friend at a jazz club marks the distance between their lives.

At the end of the essay, Hurston develops an extended metaphor in which she compares herself to a brown bag stuffed with random bits and bobs. She likens all people to...

(The entire section is 440 words.)