Looking From Strange Eyes: A Cultural Analysis
In Zora Neale Hurston’s work, “How It Feels to Be Colored Me,”the author pulls from personal experience, and writes about, not only her cultural experience within the negro community, but also her experience outside of her own culture. The work is a detailed recollection of her own personal idea of what her cultural is to her, and what it may mean to others. The work (and thus, Hurston herself) represents the black cultural community within in, in several ways. The work describes how the narrator, Hurston, see’s herself, and thus how she see’s her culture. The work also takes a look from the opposite perspective to give true insight, and lastly the work reveals a bit of insight into how we all fit together culturally.
First, Hurston explains how she sees herself in relation to her culture. Within the text it read, “…I do not always feel colored. Even now I often achieve the unconscious Zora of Eatonville before the Hegira. I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background (bay. 540)”. After analyzing the text, and reading between the lines, it is obvious that Hurston does not notice her race, and that it is others that bring it to her attention; this can be seen on page 538 and 539 of the text. The text reads, “…I lived in a little negro town of Eatonville, Florida. It is exclusively a colored town. The only white people I knew passed through on the town going or coming from Orlando…During this period, white people differed from colored to me only in that they rode through town and never lived there…But changes came…and I was sent to school in Jacksonville…I left Eatonville… [as] Zora…[and arrived in Jacksonville as] a little colored girl…I found it out…in my heart as well as in the mirror (Bay. 538-539)”. This section shows that while the narrator (Hurston) was living in her hometown of Eatonville, Florida, she was not hyper aware of her culture, or the cultures and races of others.
In the narrator’s early years she did not recognize the cultural differences because they were not presented in an aggressive manner to her. She understood that there might be people different from her, however, she did not see it in terms of color. As stated in the text, “white people differed from colored to me only in that they rode through town and never lived there (Bay.539)”. From this statement it can be concluded that the narrator did not pay close attention to race, color, and culture. Within the text the interactions between the white travelers, and Zora, the narrator are shown . The white travelers often speak kindly to Zora, and most times ask to see her dance and perform. Though, Zora found this odd she enjoyed it thoroughly, and assumed her audience did as well. These peaceful interactions with the white travelers built Zora’s entire impression of white people, and she felt they weren’t much different from herself. It is clear to see the place and reasoning behind young Zora’s impression of the white, and where that early opinion of these people stemmed from. As stated in the text, …I lived in an all negro town…exclusively [for] negroes (Bay 538)”, because Zora’s town was all negro she did not have many opportunities for encounters with people from different races; other than white travelers. Zora remained innocent of racial concerns, because none were openly present for her to witness first hand.
However, after Zora’s move to a school in Jacksonville, she became more aware of the cultural differences between us all. In realizing the difference in others she now realized the difference in herself, and she was now, “the little colored girl (Bay. 359)”. In realizing there are other different cultures around her, the narrator comes to also understand her own culture, and how some within her culture feel in relation to their culture. Within the text it says, “..But I am not tragically colored. There is no sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all [that I am black]. I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal and whose feelings are all hurt about this (Bay. 539) “. This statement brings into mind several questions. First off, how do these individuals, those within the, “Negrohood”, truly see themselves. The text reads, “..I do not mind at all [that I am black] (Bay. 539)”, in stating this is it suggestive that the Negrohood mentioned on the next line does mind? Here they represent a small percent of their culture through the text; those who seem to wish to be apart of another race.
This sentiment of wanting to change races can be seen all across different cultures, and relates to the human desire to “fit in”, so to speak. Does wanting to change races have anything to do with where the individual lives and works? My guess is more than likely. An area may be more or less relatable to a person because of the race of the majority of the people who live there. For example, In certain areas it is not uncommon to see a large influx of immigrants of the same culture, move to a specific area. They bring with them their cultural ways, the way they live, work, worship, and even love. As the area’s population grows in volume it becomes more predominantly reflected on their specific culture. However, this is not really a bad thing, in fact, it allows America to be an oasis for culture, and give us the opportunity to learn about other cultures. However, sometimes individuals from different cultures may be scared to learn and be apart of other cultures, and in turn, sometimes other cultures do not want to invite “outsiders” (such as the issue with the white people not wanting to have black individuals incorporated in their culture as seen within many texts). So, if you take a look from another’s perspective, and see the difficulties that they face in order to assimilate into the other culture(s), you may be able to understand why someone might wish to change their race.
Though integration of the cultures has always been a difficult issue, there is still a sign within the text that both the white community and the black community is trying, though the culture’s difference are obvious, they are still able to blend together. At one point within the text the narrator, Zora, explains that she and a white friend often visit The New World Cabaret, a black jazz club. She explains that while she is with this white friend at the jazz club, her color comes. She explains within the the text that while listening to the jazz music, “..I dance wildly inside myself; I yell within, I whoop; I shake my assegai above my head, I hurl it true to the mark yeeeeooww! I am in the jungle and living in the jungle way…My pulse was throbbing…[after the music ends] ‘Good music they have here’ he remarks, drumming the table with his fingertips..Music. The great blobs of purple and red emotion have not touched him (Bay. 540)”. This section shows the cultural and personal differences between the two in the jazz club. Zora’s reaction to the music was a representation of how the text shows how Zora’s culture fits into American culture.
Music is a perfect example of something that can be shared and merge into other cultures. Jazz music has been apart of American culture for quite some time, however, the black community took it to the next level, and in the process created some wonderful music. The music is vibrant, and express quite a lot of deep emotion with each note. As shown within the text Zora felt the music differently than her white companion. Within the text it read, “.I dance wildly inside myself; I yell within (Bay. 540)”, this show Zora felt something strong within the music though her friend seemingly did not. In terms of ethical responsibility, and said action towards the morally sound, the narrator takes the high road. The section of the text read, “Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me. (Bay.541)”. Here it is clear that Zora, the narrator, is taking the much less traveled, high road. She now recognizes the discrimination that had been alien to her in the past.
However, Zora does not take the discrimination and turn it into hate. She simply acknowledges that it is there, but does not allow it to take hold of her; she does not lash out at those who hurt her. Within the text, it seems the author defines ethical responsibility as the responsibility of each individual person, in that, they too much decide not to turn discrimination toward them into hate. At one point the narrator has this to say in relation to ethical standards, “..I have no separate feeling about being an American citizen and colored. I am merely a fragment of the great soul that surges within the boundaries (Bay.541).” This statement reflects the author’s idea that all American citizens, regardless of differences in culture, are the same.
The text often speaks of the differences in our cultures, and thus, the differences between us. However, the narrator chose to tie all of use in together at the end, in a beautiful metaphor. The text reads, “ But in the main, I feel like a brown bag of miscellany propped against a wall. Against a wall in company with other bags, white, red, yellow. Pour out the contents, and there is discovered a jumble of small things priceless and worthless. A first-water diamond, an empty spool, bits of broken glass, lengths of string, a key to a door long since crumbled away, a rusty knife blade, old shoes saved for a road that was never and never will be , a nail bent under the weight of things too heavy for any nail, [and] a dried flower or two still a little fragrant. In your hand is the brown bag. On the ground before you is the jumble it held–so much like the jumble in the bags, could they be emptied, that all might be dumped in a single heap and the bags refilled without altering the content any greatly…Perhaps that is how the Great Stuffer of bags filled them in the first place…( Bay. 541).” The reader can take several things away from this section of the text. First, the text reveals that we are all the same “bag”, though are colors are different. The text also explains that inside our bags we all carry the same things within us. The text is referring to the contents of the bag as our very soul, and how the same we really are. We all have things that make us beautiful and miraculous, such as the, “First-water diamond”, mentioned in the text. The text also mentions that we all have things inside ourselves that are broken, no matter the culture (or colored bag) we come from.
Within, Zora Neale Hurston’s, “ How It Feels to Be Colored Me”, the narrator who is represented as the young, and later middle aged, Zora herself describes how it feels to live within her culture and the culture of those around her. She explains how she felt as a young child, relatively colorless, and simply Zora. The work shows the results our cultures have on each other, especially those cultures that may be in the minority for the area they reside in. Zora explains how she fits into not only her own culture, but the American culture as a whole. Finally, the work related to the reader in a fairly simple way how we truly fit together, in that, when we take away the color we find that the contents of the soul remain the exact same across all cultures and races.
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