Zora Neale Hurston’s early short stories rehearse characters, themes, and actions that are more fully developed later in her novels. For example, her first short story, “John Redding Goes to Sea” (published in Howard University’s Stylus in 1921 when Hurston was a student) makes use of male-female conflict. John Redding wants to see the wide world (much like Hurston herself), while his mother wants to see him married and “settled down” near her. The story itself lacks the energy and deft use of language that Hurston will later develop, but the narrative includes clear touches of irony, especially at its closing. The father-son relationship, poignantly presented, will be developed more fully in Moses, Man of the Mountain. John Redding’s wife and mother also bear a striking resemblance to Moses’ wife Zipporah, as well as his mother-in-law, both of whom wish that their menfolk stayed at home a great deal more than they do.
All of Hurston’s short stories are closely connected to African-American folk life, to its language, its rituals, and its culture. Of the stories she wrote, “Drenched in Light” (1924), “Sweat” (1926), and “The Gilded Six-Bits” (1933) are perhaps the most anthologized, and for good reason. All three demonstrate Hurston’s talents as a writer and storyteller.
“Drenched in Light” was Hurston’s first professionally published work, appearing in the Urban League’s magazine Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life. It