"Plant's study is sorely
needed at this point in the evolving critical assessment of Hurston. It
is a paradigm for the study of individual African American women writers."
-- Alice Deck, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
In a ground-breaking study
of Zora Neale Hurston, Deborah Plant takes issue with current notions
of Hurston as a feminist and earlier impressions of her as an intellectual
lightweight who disregarded serious issues of race in American culture.
Instead, Plant calls Hurston a "writer of resistance" who challenged
the politics of domination both in her life and in her work. One of the
great geniuses of the Harlem Renaissance, Hurston stands out as a strong
voice for African-American women. Her anthropological inquiries as well
as her evocative prose provide today's readers with a rich history of
African American folk culture, a folk culture through which Hurston expressed
her personal and political strategy of resistance and self-empowerment.
Through readings of Hurston's
fiction and autobiographical writings, Plant offers one of the first book-length
discussions of Hurston's personal philosophy of individualism and self-preservation.
From a discussion of Hurston's preacher father and influential mother,
whose guiding philosophy is reflected in the title of this book, to the
influence of Spinoza and Nietzsche, Plant puts into perspective the driving
forces behind Hurston's powerful prose.
This fresh look at one of
the most important writers of the twentieth century is sure to shape future
study of Hurston and her work.
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.
In Masculinist Impulses, Nathan Grant begins his analysis of African American texts by focusing on the fragmentation of values of black masculinity—free labor, self-reliance, and responsibility to family and community—as a result of slavery, postbellum disfranchisement, and the ensuing necessity to migrate from the agrarian South to the industrialized North. Through examinations of novels that deal with black male selfhood, Grant demonstrates the ways in which efforts to alleviate the most destructive aspects of racism ultimately reproduced them in the context of the industrialized city.
Grant’s book provides close readings of Jean Toomer (Cane and Natalie Mann) and Zora Neale Hurston (Moses, Man of the Mountain, Seraph of the Suwanee, and Their Eyes Were Watching God), for whom the American South was a crucial locus of the African American experience. Toomer and Hurston were virtually alone among the Harlem Renaissance writers of prose who returned to the South for their literary materials. That return, however, allowed their rediscovery of key black masculine values and charted the northern route of those values in the twentieth century to their compromise and destruction.
Grant then moves on to three more recent writers—John Edgar Wideman, Gloria Naylor, and Toni Morrison—who expanded upon and transformed the themes of Toomer and Hurston. Like Toomer and Hurston, these later authors recognized the need for the political union of black men and women in the effort to realize the goals of equity and justice.
Masculinist Impulses discusses nineteenth- and twentieth-century black masculinity as both a feature and a casualty of modernism. Scholars and students of African American literature will find Grant’s nuanced and creative readings of these key literary texts invaluable.
Now frequently anthologized, Zora Neale Hurston's short story "Sweat" was first published in Firell, a legendary literary magazine of the Harlem Renaissance, whose sole issue appeared in November 1926. Among contributions by Gwendolyn Bennett, Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, and Wallace Thurman, "Sweat" stood out both for its artistic accomplishment and its exploration of rural Southern black life. In "Sweat" Hurston claimed the voice that animates her mature fiction, notably the 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God; the themes of marital conflict and the development of spiritual consciousness were introduced as well. "Sweat" exemplifies Hurston's lifelong concern with women's relation to language and the literary possibilities of black vernacular.
This casebook for the story includes an introduction by the editor, a chronology of the author's life, the authoritative text of "Sweat," and a second story, "The Gilded Six-Bits." Published in 1932, this second story was written after Hurston had spent years conducting fieldwork in the Southern United States. The volume also includes Hurston's groundbreaking 1934 essay, "Characteristics of Negro Expression," and excerpts from her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road. An article by folklorist Roger Abrahams provides additional cultural contexts for the story, as do selected blues and spirituals. Critical commentary comes from Alice Walker, who led the recovery of Hurston's work in the 1970s, Robert Hemenway, Henry Louis Gates, Gayl Jones, John Lowe, Kathryn Seidel, and Mary Helen Washington.
A historian hoping to reconstruct the social world of all-black towns or the segregated black sections of other towns in the South finds only scant traces of their existence. In Zora Neale Hurston and a History of Southern Life, Tiffany Ruby Patterson uses the ethnographic and literary work of Zora Neale Hurston to augment the few official documents, newspaper accounts, and family records that pertain to these places hidden from history. Hurston's ethnographies, plays, and fiction focused on the day-to-day life in all-black social spaces as well as "the Negro farthest down" in labor camps. Patterson shows how Hurston's work complements the fragmented historical record, using the folklore and stories to provide a full description of these people of these towns as active human subjects, shaped by history and shaping their private world. Beyond the view and domination of whites in these spaces, black people created their own codes of social behavior, honor, and justice. In Patterson's view Hurston renders her subjects faithfully and with respect for their individuality and endurance, enabling all people to envision an otherwise inaccessible world.
Zora Neale Hurston wrote her most famous novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, while in Haiti on a trip funded by a Guggenheim fellowship to research the region’s transatlantic folk and religious culture; this work grounded what would become her ethnography Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica. The essays in Zora Neale Hurston, Haiti, and “Their Eyes Were Watching God” persuasively demonstrate that Hurston’s study of Haitian Voudoun informed the characterization, plotting, symbolism, and theme of her novel. Much in the way that Voudoun and its North American derivative Voodoo are syncretic religions, Hurston’s fiction enacts a syncretic, performative practice of reference, freely drawing upon Greco-Roman, Judeo-Christian, and Haitian Voudoun mythologies for its political, aesthetic, and philosophical underpinnings. Zora Neale Hurston, Haiti, and “Their Eyes Were Watching God” connects Hurston’s work more firmly to the cultural and religious flows of the African diaspora and to the literary practice by twentieth-century American writers of subscripting in their fictional texts symbols and beliefs drawn from West and Central African religions.