Black American Women Fiction Writers

Black American Women Fiction Writers

Black American Women Fiction Writers

Black American Women Fiction Writers

Excerpt

Like Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston will be remembered for one novel, though Their Eyes Were Watching God, despite its aesthetically achieved pathos, is not of the eminence of Invisible Man. And yet it clearly is a permanent book, remarkable in its kind. One way of seeing its splendor is to read it side-by-side with Hurston's allegorical and satiric narrative, Moses: Man of the Mountain, an admirable attempt to do something astonishingly difficult, which is to appropriate biblical narrative as an essentially cheerful paradigm for African-American experience. As a biblical allegorist, Hurston largely fails precisely where William Faulkner frequently succeeds (although not in the dread disaster of A Fable). Faulkner's language in Light in August and its companion works is marked by the controlled exuberance that the biblical analogue demands, and Faulkner is very skilled in taking up a consistent rhetorical stance in regard to his narrative and its characters. The language in Moses: Man of the Mountain is very uneven, and frequently gives the effect of distracting Hurston from the Exodus pattern she seeks to follow. I am uncertain, as I finish the book, precisely where the novelist stands in relation to figures she dislikes, Miriam and Aaron in particular. Perhaps Hurston tried to do too much in the one book, but more likely her primordial vitalism made her distrust the transcendental element, without which the Exodus story lacks coherence and weight.

Yet turning back to Their Eyes Were Watching God, directly after rereading Hurston's Moses, vividly demonstrates again the superb vitalism that transfigures Hurston's portrait of Janie Crawford. It is true that sometimes the language falters or mounts up too high for its subject, but the rhetorical stance of exuberant identification is unwavering. From the folklore that preserved an African gnosis, Hurston quarried one of the classic versions of an American Gnosticism, exalting the spark or pneuma that condenses what is best and oldest in Janie, a divinity that is no part of creation and that has the strength to outlast all the disasters of love and sleep that make up our Fall:

When God had made The Man, he made him out of stuff that sung all
the time and glittered all over. Then after that some angels got jealous

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