Thursday, March 16, 2023

Cultural Geo-tagging Zora Neale Hurston’s short stories

By Kenton Rambsy

Zora Neale Hurston is consistent with her cultural geo-tagging. She uses the same Florida as the setting for her most famous stories, thereby underlining her interest in depicting Black communities that are outside the purview of white mainstream representations.

Hurston’s attention to geography is evident, based on her acknowledgment of key places and character types in a close-knit Florida community. She sets her stories during what is perhaps the 1900s in an unnamed town much like Eatonville, Florida, where Hurston lived until the age of thirteen.

While not urban, the settings are moderately developed and home to a predominantly Black community. Hurston does not provide specific addresses and descriptions of the places in the town; but what does stand out is that she takes readers into private spaces of Black characters.

The plots of her stories unfold through marital disputes in a bedroom, women doing domestic work in a kitchen, and conversations on the front porch at convenience stores and other social settings. Hurston’s stories were entertaining and revealed drama that took place mainly among Black people and especially in intimate conflicts between a husband and wife.

Whether set in a private home or a public communal setting, Hurston’s southern tales revolve almost exclusively around Black homegrown characters. Hurston incorporates African American Vernacular English to connect the setting to southern terrains and dramatize portrayals of characters in the region. Hurston relies heavily on her characters, not the narrator, to discuss the sequence of events in her stories and to describe their emotional responses.

This entry is part of a series--A Notebook on The Geographies of African American Short Stories.

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