Zora Neale Hurston was the famous American writer and folklorist who was associated with the African-American society of the rural South. She was one of the main figures of the Harlem Renaissance, and had written a masterpiece known as “Their Eyes were Watching God.” In this novel, Zora tells the tale of Janie Mae Crawford that how she learns the importance of self-reliance and independence by means of marrying more than once and going through different problems and tragedies. Since the book was about a woman being independent and fighting for her rights, it was criticized by the African-American males. One of the authors, Richard Wright, criticized it saying that the novel has been written as using a “minstrel technique” created in order to appeal to the white audiences. Zora also wrote many short stories such as “Sweat” and “How It Feels to be Colored Me”, etc. In all these short stories, Zora has jotted down her experiences of being in an African-American society and culture. “Sweat” was about a woman who suffered through the unfaithfulness of her husband who had taken her money. And “How It Feels to be Colored Me” is the autobiographical account of Zora. In this essay, she gives account of her childhood and the not-so-good surprise of going to a place where all whites resided.
“Jonah’s Gourd Vine” was Zora’s first novel in which she shared the experience of being in an African-American society through the male perception. This male character was a flawed pastor called John Buddy Pearson. All her accounts and stories tell how great and strong woman she was. She says in a letter written to Countee Cullen, “I have the nerve to walk my own way, however hard, in my search for reality, rather than climb upon the rattling wagon of wishful illusions” (zoranealehurston.com). Zora was highly concerned about the state and condition of the world. She spent her life in trying to fulfill her utopian dream. She was against the social biases and standards set by the people of the society having no meaning and importance. Zora believed that the black Americans were able to achieve sovereignty from the white society and all its narrow-mindedness. As someone said, “You can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy” (cliffsnotes.com). Here, by “boy” she meant girl, and by girl, she meant herself. Zora impacted the history of the American literature through her novels and short stories that told the stories of both male and female African-Americans, their lifestyle, thoughts, views, and whites’ treatment. Some accounted for the rights of women which they were deprived of.
Not just the novels and short stories conveyed the message of Zora to the world. In fact, she also wrote poems and plays which demonstrated her personality, life and career. “All De Live Long Day” is one of her plays depicting the struggles and hard life of the blacks having dance and music. This touched the hearts of the audience. Her thoughts, views, opinions, and even her writing style were different from the other Black writers of her era. This is the reason why her works were criticized by both white and black writers. She always refused to change herself and her perspectives for others, and this may have restricted her triumph in the way of her life.
However, her works were acknowledged and gained fame after her death. Zora added her own element of the black dialect in the novel “Moses, Man of the Mountain” which is based on the story of the Bible regarding the life of Moses and the migration of his people. Hurston wrote just one story which had the white characters, “Seraph on the Suwanee.” This is the tale of a white lady who gave up on searching for true love until she met a man who changed her mind. Zora depicted her religion in the stories such as “Tell My Horse” and “Mules and Men.” All of Zora’s stories, novels, poems and plays show the aspects of love, faith, slavery, family, community and race. Humorous aspect is also found in her works. The dressing and the works of Zora totally depicts her open, bold and outspoken personality. She was confident in what she was and what she wrote. She never felt guilty or sorry for her bold comments and stories as she believed that the richness the black culture had, was there to celebrated, cherished and put into literature. Zora’s style and works impacted other female authors of the African-American culture such as Alice Walker. “Mama exhorted her children at every opportunity to “jump at de sun.” We might not land on the sun, but at least we would get off the ground” (womeninhistoryohio.com).
Observing and examining all of Zora’s literary works, one can say that she possessed a highly artistic nature and she used that to convey her message to the world. And through these, she made a great and significant impact on the history of the American literature, and also how arts and literature is being viewed now. All she had gone through, and everything she observed and noticed regarding the people around her, and the society in which she lived, had been depicted by her through the stories, plays, poems and novels.
Hurston, Z. N. (n.d.). Zora Neale Hurston. Retrieved from http://zoranealehurston.com/about/
Their Eyes Were Watching God. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.cliffsnotes.com/literature/t/their-eyes-were-watching-god/zora-neale-hurston-biography
Zora Neale Hurston. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.womeninhistoryohio.com/zora-neale-hurston.html