Wednesday, January 25, 2017
Zora Neale Hurston - novelist and anthropologist
Continuing to be impressed with Zara Neal Hurston's 1937 novel, Their Eyes were Watching God, particularly for her ability to convey black culture and communities in the Deep South in the early 20th century. She is one of the few novelists of her time to have formal training as an anthropologist, and that training I think is what helped her tell us about worlds long gone and but for her long forgotten - notably a fledgling all-black Florida village , black rr workers in Jacksonville, and most of all the cane pickers and migrant workers in the Everglades. Of course these community portraits never feel scholarly, staid, or mired in research largely because she brings the novelist's skills to the fore - character (Janie in particular , a strong and tragic woman in fiction), plot, dialog, and wit. Who wouldn't love a novel w characters named Tea Cake, Who Flung, And Sop-da-bottom? I am also impressed by her honesty toward her characters. Tea cake in particular - she starts off idealizing him as a female-fantasy sexy romantic guy but we soon see that he is deeply flawed - an inveterate gambler and no one who can walk out on his wife for a few days without even an explanation or excuse. ZNH also includes a character who is terribly racist and she's not afraid to let this vile character have her say - in other words she includes all the complexity of these black workin-class and migrant communities, not all of which or all of whom are admirable. They're just people getting by against terrible odds and w limited possibilities. In same ways these isolated worlds are gone and so much the better - laws have improved and opportunities have expanded over the past century - but in other ways rural and urban black communities can still feel cut off from the mainstream - not of american culture as that permeates everywhere but from the american dream - think of worlds we see today in say The Wire or Last Chance U - are their chances that much better than those of hurston's cane-cutters?