The characters of Moses are generally flat and underdeveloped, in part because Hurston is adapting a biblical tale and is limited by her source, but also because she is writing an allegory of the American black slaves’ struggle for emancipation.
Hurston has combined the Moses of the Old Testament with the Moses depicted in African folklore. Thus, the Moses described in the novel is a wise prophet but also is a great voodoo chief. His power is derived not only from God but also from the Egyptian priests and the Book of Thoth. Both of these aspects—wisdom and magic—are necessary to lead and control the Hebrews, who, because of their enslavement, are not prepared for leadership roles. In order to emphasize the African heritage of Moses, Hurston departs from the biblical source and portrays Moses as Egyptian born. In this manner, she suggests that a forceful outside leader is necessary to free an oppressed people.
The novel chronicles Moses’ growth as he develops into the leader of the Hebrews. His early years are a preparation for the task that Jethro has set before him. From Mentu, the Egyptian priests, and the Book of Thoth, he acquires the magic later needed to control the Hebrews. From his years of military campaigns, he acquires the military expertise that he will later impart to Joshua. His sense of fairness results in his siding with the oppressed Hebrews, at one point killing an Egyptian overseer who brutally beats a...
(The entire section is 515 words.)