Zora Neale Hurston’s short stories in the African American literary tradition
Chao, Serene Zhang Min
Date of Issue2017
College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
Zora Neale Hurston, an African American writer from the Harlem Renaissance, celebrates African American culture by adopting the vernacular language and representing the everyday lives of distinct African American groups, in her prose fiction. She writes about “what she knew [of African Americans] and if it didn’t always present the Negro as a tailored gentleman or a Paris-gowned lady … she wasn’t ashamed of it” (Dickson-Carr 49). Her artistic directions were both rejected and celebrated by her counterparts; Richard Wright charged her for “romanticizing and thus exploiting black poverty and entertaining whites with it … [taking] the edge off of the guilt of the rich [whites]” (Gandal 4). On the other hand, George Schuyler accredits her as “one of the soundest writers of the movement for seeing African Americans as just Americans … [having] a sincere appreciation for the vagaries of Black Southern life” (4). Again, while Sterling A. Brown regrets that Hurston’s [Mules and Men] was “too pastoral and would have been nearer the truth if it had been more bitter” (Gates Jr. and McKay 1020), Harold Bloom commends her for being “refreshingly free of all the ideologies that currently obscure the reception of her [works]. Her sense of power has nothing in common with politics of any persuasion” (Bloom 5). These divided and mutually contradicting sentiments about Hurston’s representation of African Americans in relation to a wider America highlight the intense political atmosphere during the Harem Renaissance. I see this tension as a good sign in the history of African American literature, serving to magnify its spirit of protest against White oppressors and for the African American’s dignity. In this paper, I first outline the birth and evolution of the African American literary tradition, from the slave narrative genre, which demonstrates the slaves’ interior faculty, through the transition of intellectual discourse into aestheticism in the tradition, to the Harlem Renaissance in all its critical acclaim. I then introduce the essential elements of African American literature, them being the melodious, rhythmic, and performative vernacular expression, and jazz. Finally, I exposit how Zora Neale Hurston’s works engage with the African American literary tradition and bring it forward into the Modernist artistic movement. This paper celebrates Zora Neale Hurston for being a truly inclusive African American writer who puts aside race, class, and gender, uniting people in the experience of being human. In this, she not only carries on the African American literary tradition of reclaiming their humanity through the display of their interiority in literature, but she also spreads the messages of acceptance and appreciation for diversity.
Final Year Project (FYP)
Nanyang Technological University