Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Hurston published Jonah’s Gourd Vine in 1934, thirteen years after she had published her first short story, nearly a decade after she had become an award-winning writer, and several years after she had established herself as an important American folklorist whose specialty was black life of the American South and the Caribbean. Naturally, there was considerable interest in her first novel. Few were disappointed in her craft, although writers and critics with socialist leanings were disturbed that Hurston refrained from writing much protest fiction in favor of writing stories that celebrated the culture and values of black communities in the South. Jonah’s Gourd Vine was generally well received, and its publication was the beginning of Hurston’s most fruitful and rewarding period of writing that included Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), Moses, Man of the Mountain (1939), and the award-winning Dust Tracks on a Road: An Autobiography (1942).

With the revival of interest in Hurston’s canon that began in 1973 after two decades of general neglect, critics have looked favorably upon Jonah’s Gourd Vine as a novel important not only for its artistic value but also for its folkloric value. In addition, this first novel shows the development of its author as a craftsperson who had perfected the short story and then gone on to master the longer genre of the novel.