cover of book

Hitting A Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick: Race and Gender in the Work of Zora Neale Hurston
by Susan E Meisenhelder
University of Alabama Press, 2001
Cloth: 978-0-8173-0965-7 | Paper: 978-0-8173-1131-5 | eISBN: 978-0-8173-8693-1
Library of Congress Classification PS3515.U789Z785 1999
Dewey Decimal Classification 813/.52

Zora Neale Hurston is a controversial figure, equally praised and criticized for her representation of African-Americans; while some critics emphasize her ebullience and celebration of Black culture, others call her fiction stereotypical and essentialist. Observing the workings of the recurrent humor in her works helps explode this critical binary opposition. Specifically, the carnivalesque and the heteroglossia often subvert essentialist notions of (Black) identity.

Jonah's Gourd Vine's protagonist, the preacher-womanizer John Pearson, can be seen as an African rather than an African-American trickster figure, i.e. as a mobile character whose liminality helps him fight essentialist definitions imposed on him by both the white establishment and his own community. Janie's romantic search for self-fulfillment in Their Eyes Were Watching God is undermined by the humor and the carnival, which emphasize her shifting and multiply defined identity. Finally, the African-Americanized story of Moses and the Hebrews shows the conflicts involved in their search for a unified national and cultural identity. In these three novels, Hurston appears as a subversive presence whose manipulation of humor underscores a complex political vision.
Susan Meisenhelder  is Professor of English at California  State University-San Bernardino.
  • Contents 
    • Acknowledgments
    • Abbreviations
    • Introduction
    • 1. 
    • “Fractious” Mules and Covert Resistance in Mules and Men
    • 2. 
    • “Natural Men” and “Pagan Poesy” in Jonah's Gourd Vine
    • 3. 
    • “Mink Skin or Coon Hide”: The Janus-faced Narrative of Their Eyes Were Watching God
    • 4. 
    • The Ways of White Folks in Seraph on the Suwanee
    • 5. 
    • “Crossing Over” and “Heading Back”: Black Cultural Freedom in Moses, Man of the Mountain
    • 6. 
    • “With a Harp and a Sword in My Hand”: Black Female Identity in Dust Tracks on a Road
    • 7. 
    • The “Trials” of Black Women in the 1950s: Ruby McCollum and Laura Lee Kimble
    • Conclusion
    • Notes
    • Works Cited
    • Index