Illustration of the African-American Experience through Racial Satire in “Filling Station”

Zora Neale Hurston’s Filling Station is a short comic story written in the 1930s and also included as part of the African-American: Graphic Classics Volume 22 published in 2011 (Hughes, Bois and Hurston). Hurston has two stories in the book, Lawing and Jawing and Filling Station.” Filling Station focuses on a sequence of amusing encounters in a gas station at the border of Alabama and Georgia. This tale was written in the 1930s when racial profiling was at its peak, and the oppression of black people was evident. The idea of the story is not so much in what is taking place but somewhat the pace and the feel of the performance. Milton Knight offers the illustrations of the story in the book bringing out the essence of the story through a perfect pairing of literature and art. Hurston aims to express the black experience and racial division at the time whilst conveying the celebration of black identity. Moreover, Knight’s illustrations aim to appreciate black art and literature as it is not greatly appreciated, as a few understand their true essence. Hurston uses humor and satirical language to illuminate the African-American experiences of discrimination and also black pride, in an effort to celebrate the black heritage further accentuated with Milton Knight’s illustrations of black art.

Hurston demonstrates the racial segregation and discrimination of African-Americans through satirical instances of the black experience in America. The Ford driver asserts, “Well, they tell me they don’t ‘low Y’all niggers to laugh on de streets in Georgy. They got laughin’ barrels on certain corners for niggers (Hughes, Bois and Hurston). This is a satirical instance that alludes to how black people had to use amenities that were preserved for them and could not use the white designated facilities. He also mentions that “…in Georgy they hate niggers so bad till one day they lynched a black mule for kickin a white one” (Hughes, Bois and Hurston). The author uses the satirical situation of a mule being lynched to demonstrate the level of racial prejudices and persecution of black people. During this period in history, black people in the South were subjected to extreme prejudice that included multiple lynching of African-Americans. Hurston uses humorous anecdotes to illustrate how as a black person they took pride in their own identity despite the social exclusion and discrimination.

Furthermore, Hurston utilizes the controversial depiction of the African-American speech as both racial satire and reverence to an exclusive dialect. For instance the phrase “Cause dem crackers Y’all got over there sho is hard on de black man” (Hughes, Bois and Hurston) is considered provocative as a racist representation of black speech. Some would deliberate this as a racist satire and others seeing it as an homage to a unique idiom (Williams). Hurston uses the speech as a parody to refer to how African-American are perceived and discriminated upon by the white folks. While at the same time embraces it as part of an exclusive Southern dialect and heritage of the black identity. Many of the jokes resonate with the old fights between slaves who boasted on how good their masters were to them. In the story, as they outspread into an argument about the qualities of Chevrolets and Fords they show the audience a source of pride in these men as they battle on whose car is better (Plant 88). The story fits perfectly with a black audience from the south. It also shows Hurston’s writing skills at her best, as she knits together pieces of African-American humor, classics, and contemporary ideologies.

Milton Knight’s illustrations of the comical story offer an intriguing combination of literature and art to appreciate black identity and heritage. The energy of Hurston’s dialogue of the 20th century Southern Black dialect is matched perfectly by Knight’s illustrations. Knight’s illustration conveniently reproduces that core, integrating both overstated elements of distortion and the rounded ends and upbeat colors related to hip-hop and graffiti drawing (Williams). Knight combines the narrative that celebrates blackness with contemporary elements of black pride to illustrate the African-American heritage with reverence. Moreover, the animation portrayal of the proficient, confident, beautiful female character with her imbalanced brimmed fedora, wavy hair, prominent cheekbones and vastly arched eyebrows (Williams). Knight makes very insightful artistic selections by crowding each section with energetic hues, adaptable bodies, and ferocious expressions to make evident of Hurston’s outrageous folk humor and wordplay. His wild illustrations increase the hyper vitality of this border-clash tale. During the course of the narrative, the text and the art are good enough to deserve the attention of readers who have no special interest in black literature or comics.

Hurston’s Filling Station provides a satirical platform to express the black experience in America in order to appreciate black heritage and identity whilst Knight’s contemporary illustrations accentuates the theme. Hurston as an outspoken black woman and writer portrays her courage and strength in every story that she tells. She emphasizes gender equality and the strength of a woman. Filling Station portrays a better understanding of the society that we live in and the stereotypical ideologies that we have toward people of different race, religion or background. The graphic illustration of the narrative shows a new side to art that not many people are aware it exists. The writing and art are great to be worthy of the attention of readers who have no distinct curiosity in black literature or comics. The variety of material is extensive in style and subject. The story was written and set in a time that is different from now; from the literature evolving and art itself but it still feels friendly and understood. The story shines a light on many things including black pride and the stigma of racial discrimination. Filling Station is a story that tells the audience a lot of things that are not from the story but from the words used to express these characters that see themselves as two different people but are the same in how they perceive the world.

Works Cited

Hughes, Langston, W. E. B. Du Bois and Zora Neale Hurston. African-American Classics (Graphic Classics, Vol. 22). Eureka, 2011.

Plant, Deborah G. “The Inside Light”: New Critical Essays on Zora Neale Hurston. ABC-CLIO, 2010.

Williams, Kristian. “Black Classics Reborn, Graphically .” IN THESE TIMES 10 April 2012. Online.