Revisiting Racialized Voice: African American Ethos in Language and Literature

By David G. Holmes | Go to book overview

5
“Reading My Words but Not My Mind”: Hurston's Ironic Voice

ZORA NEALE HURSTON SHOULD BE INCLUDED IN any critical discussion of black voice. Like Chesnutt and Du Bois, she affirmed the value of African American folk culture. Unlike either of them, she did so without implying any underlying inferiority of that culture. Like her older colleagues, she contested traditional ideas about race, but she did so as an individual, without presuming to define racial identity for anyone else. Of greatest significance, her career and writings draw attention to some of the points at which gender, race, and writing converge. From her life, writers of color can derive approaches to engaging the question, to what extent do race and gender control the individual's construction of authorial ethos?

Hurston defies simple characterization. Extremely proud of the traditions of the all-black town in which she was raised, she was accused by many black artists of being a “happy darkie” and of denigrating her people. She studied anthropology with the renowned Franz Boas but remained intrigued with the mystical world of voodoo. And through her ethnographic masterpiece Mules and Men, she blurred the lines among genres: can social scientific writing also be artistic?

She set the standard for the inclusion of folklore and vernacular in fiction. Many of her works describe the blessings and perils of marriage, yet she was anything but conventional in her view of this institution, her

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