Imagine being hated in your community for telling the truth, standing up or portraying the reality of your everyday life by the people you believed would support you. Refusing to embrace your culture is denying one’s own existence. Zora Neale Hurston saw her culture for the beauty it held from its individuality, and she embraced it throughout her life and writing career.
Hurston, a struggling writer of the Harlem renaissance, was a woman that never neglected her true identity as an African American despite the controversies her writing brought forth. She was “Criticized by her peers for celebrating black folk culture in art and folklore instead of engaging in overt protest against racial oppression of blacks” (Mckay). Hurston wrote in order for people to comprehend who she was as an African American woman and the community she grew up in and loved. She did not see anything wrong with it because it was her culture, her identity. While it is good to improve or evolve as an individual in life, one must never separate themselves from their authentic self.
Hurston did not see anything wrong with her culture. “She [Hurston] was not embarrassed to present her characters as mixtures of good and bad, strong and weak” (Baym & Levine 529). The authenticity of her characters are the depth of her culture. Hurston did not try to sugarcoat or fantasize her reality. One of her short stories that portrayed her style of writing is “Sweat,” a tale about a woman trapped in an abusive marriage. “She [Delia] had brought love to the union and he had brought a longing after the flesh. Two months after the wedding, he had given her the first brutal beating” (Hurston). Hurston did not try to cover up the reality of a dysfunctional marriage between two individuals. She did not put them under a fluorescent light and talk about the love that manifested throughout their 15 years of marriage. It was the reality of a marriage that was doomed from the beginning. Hurston’s writing does not say that every relationship is damned, but she is expressing her observations of the typical marriages she sees or has experienced in her community.
Hurston’s use of diction is unlike any other writer’s. Instead of using proper word choice, she used dialect throughout her stories, especially in the dialogues between the characters “Syke! Syke, mah Gawd! You take dat rattlesnake ‘way from heah! You gottuh. Oh, Jesus, have mussy!” (Hurston). It takes a while for the reader to grasp the meaning of the sentence, but its authenticity is everywhere. At a very young age, her family moved to Eatonville, Florida, and her writing reflects that. Hurston never lost root of who she is regardless of the many places she has been. “Hurston’s works celebrated blackness, and she became an enthusiastic contributor to the New Negro Renaissance literary movement” (Howard). She found truth and beauty within her African American culture, and she embraced it throughout her life, especially during the Harlem renaissance.
Hurston’s truthfulness in her writing opened up the door for other writers to talk about the things that they feared: the most dysfunctional relationships as well as being vulnerable and weak. As a result of her writing, many writers were influenced by her, such as Alice Walker, Ralph Ellison etc. Regardless of her critics that found her writing to be offensive due to the fact that it was not talking about change in the African American community, she remained true to her style. In one of her novels Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston examines Janie’s (main character) struggle with trying to find herself in a community which tells her what to do and how to do it. As a result, Janie had two separate marriages with men of high standing in the community that ended up being bad husbands. These husbands were beating and belittling her as a woman and an individual. Hurston’s writing authenticity and raw truth opened a barrier for other writers to talk about the bad as well as the good in life.
From Zora Neal Hurston’s life and contribution to the world of literature, the audience should take away the fact that there is beauty in not having it all together. and showing people that they are weak and battle with the same thing they do. As individuals, it is hard for any of us to show our weakness, and Hurston paved the road for others to follow.
“Nora Neale Hurston.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Eds. Nina Baym and
Robert S. Levine. 8th ed. Vol. D. New York: Norton, 2012. 899-907. Print.
Howard, Lillie P. “Zora Neale Hurston.” Afro-American Writers From the Harlem Renaissance to 1940. Ed. Trudier Harris-Lopez and Thadious M. Davis. Detroit: Gale, 1987. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 51. Literature Resource Center. Web. 7 Apr. 2016.
Hurston, Zora Neale. “Sweat”. Biblioklept. Biblioklept, 21 Jan. 2013. Web. 7 April 2016.
McKay, Nellie. “Hurston, Zora Neale (1891-1960).” Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia of American Literature. George B. Perkins, Barbara Perkins, and Phillip Leininger. Vol. 1. New York: HarperCollins, 1991. 506. Artemis Literary Sources. Web. 6 Apr. 2016.