In Search of Zora’s role

            I found the excerpts from “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens” incredibly interesting. In the portrayal of her search for facts and details about Zora Hurston Neale’s life, Alice Walker touched on many subjects we’ve discussed in class recently including kinship and community. Of course, the most obvious topic of Walker’s writing is the contrast between Zora’s talent and her recognition, shown by Walker’s incorporation of Robert Hemenway’s quote, “Zora Neale Hurston is one of the most significant unread authors in America” (Walker, 93). Zora’s lack of readership is further displayed when Walker asks a woman in Eatonville, the town Zora grew up in, if the schools in Eatonville taught Zora’s books. The woman replies, “No…they don’t. I don’t think most people know anything about Zora Neale Hurston, or know about any of the great things she did…I’ve read all of her books myself, but I don’t think many other folks in Eatonville have” (Walker, 95).

            Part of Zora’s lack of recognition stemmed from her lack of appreciation within her own community. As Charlotte notes, “Many of the church people around here…thought Zora was pretty loose. I don’t think they appreciated her writing about them” (Walker, 95). Eatonville is described as “a self-contained, all-black community where loyalty and unity are taken for granted”  (Walker, 100). By leaving Eatonville for school and later basing much of her writings on Eatonville and its residents, it seems Zora’s community saw her writings as a threat to that unity. On top of this rejection from Eatonville residents, Zora faced a larger and more painful rejection from the black community as a whole. As Robert Hemenway notes, the rejection by the black community hurt the most: “Bitter over the rejection of her folklore’s value, especially in the black community, frustrated by what she felt was her failure to convert the Afro-American world view into the forms of prose fiction, Hurston finally gave up” (Walker, 106).

           This rejection by the black community also gets tied to questions of kinship. In her quest to understand Zora’s past, Walker invents a lie that she believes will make people who might have known Zora more willing to help her, telling the first person she asks, “‘I am Miss Hurston’s niece’” (Walker, 95). As she continues to reuse the lie again and again, Walker comments on the validity of her statement: “By this time I am, of course, completely into being Zora’s niece, and the lie comes with perfect naturalness to my lips. Besides, as far as I’m concerned, she is my aunt – and that of all black people as well” (Walker, 102). Calling Zora her aunt, and thinking of her as the aunt of all black people pulls at the definitions of kinship we have previously considered in class. To Walker, Zora’s work served as a collection of stories and Afro-American folklore that kept a shared history alive. Walker extends her circle of kinship to include a woman she had never met, but who had a profound effect on her life and her view of the world. By grappling with Zora’s individual story, as well as her role in her community and the lives of others, Walker shows the strong effects of Hurston’s writing that exist to this day for those willing to find them.

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2 thoughts on “In Search of Zora’s role

  1. Perhaps this is pushing a flimsy point too far, but considering the kinship Walker feels for Hurston, how important is recognition from the immediate community in the end? Hurston has gained a wider community in her audience, so does it really matter if the people she lived with weren’t necessarily a part of that community?

    • But if her community and other all-black communities did not know Zora, they would not be able to recognize her as “[the aunt] of all black people” so we have a kind of kinship bond that only goes one way.

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