Zora Neale Hurston’s fiction, especially her novels, leads us to examine ourselves in relation to the world around us. Without exaggeration, her novels enlarge both our minds and our hearts. Hurston, however, would not make such a claim; instead, she would keep moving towards some goal to be reached, some project to be started. Her anxious restlessness about herself and her work makes her a very contemporary writer, a modernist who tried to enlarge the very notion of what it is to be American. She wrote about traditional subjects—love and loss, displacement and home, failure and triumph—at the same time she attempted to redefine our notion of American culture. In her autobiography, itself a fiction that contained truths, she wrote: “Well, that is the way things stand up to now. I can look back and see sharp shadows, high lights, and smudgy inbetweens.” She went on to write the famous line about being in “Sorrow’s kitchen” as well as being on the “peaky mountain,” with a harp in one hand, a sword in the other (Dust Tracks 227). Nothing sums up more fully the story of her life, and of America, than her sense of great contrasts and of great hope. Her novels—and her short stories—offer us the same vital contrasts and the same struggle to reconcile the harp and the sword.
All of her novels, as John Lowe has so astutely observed, are comedies in a “cosmic” sense (passim). That is to say that the comedy is a matter of life and death, with death finally always being outwitted through love, through generosity, through imagination, and perhaps most of all, through the act of storytelling itself. Hurston grew up hearing stories from her immediate family and