Artistic Influences, Kinship, and the Lesbian Continuum

Something that really struck me in Walker’s “Looking for Zora” was the intimacy Walker used when speaking of Hurston, despite never having met her.  Just as Sonia and Marah have pointed out, Walker begins pretending to be Hurston’s niece to ease her search for more information.  The tightknit community Zora was part of in her life is not particularly willing to share with outsiders, and she needs this connection of kinship to coax the information out.  However, as time goes on, she really starts to enjoy the role and revels in the alias she’s created for herself.  Her passion then excites others and instills an appreciation for and devotion to Zora.  For example, Rosalee from the funeral home goes from utter indifference to facing wild snakes with Walker, all to help her find Zora.  As Walker thanks her, she adds, “‘Zora thanks you too’” (Walker, 105).  She feels this connection with Zora, and that’s what drives her search and story.

It reminded me of a much earlier article we read that also discusses Zora Neale Hurston, and what it means to be a Black female.  That was, of course, Adrienne Rich’s article about the lesbian continuum, wherein she quotes Lorraine Bethel on Zora Neale Hurston, saying, “‘We have a distinct Black woman-identified folk culture based on our experiences as Black women in this society; symbols, language, and modes of expression that are specific to the realities of our lives…’” (Rich, 658).  In this regard, it makes perfect sense for Walker to feel a strong connection to Zora, not just because both are Black women, but because both are writers, drawing on the shared symbols and language Bethel describes.

Zora has passed on much of her wisdom and knowledge through her writing, and it is clear how much those writings have affected Walker.  Those artistic influences are very evident through Walker’s other work, including of course The Color Purple.  We may conclude then, that these artistic influences are comparable to the moral lessons mothers pass on to their daughters (as Sonia said).  So, the connection between these two Black female writers, though not mutual, is surprisingly similar to the kinship connections we studied in our last unit, and perhaps also similar to the connections of the lesbian continuum we studied in our very first unit.

Is this true of all artistic expression for women?  Is this a singular phenomena based on race?


3 thoughts on “Artistic Influences, Kinship, and the Lesbian Continuum

  1. This is a really interesting reference to Rich! I would also reference MacKinnon in wondering to what extent female artistic expression is a response to oppression. MacKinnon writes that ‘black power’ and ‘female power’ are all good and fun but are inherently problematic because they are responses to a history of subjugation. Still, these are very unifying structures, and I think the sense of kinship to be gained from them is relevant to artistic expression and communication.

    • You’re right, MacKinnon would definitely say that. In response, I’d just like to highlight how much of their connection comes through artistic expression. Yes, being a Black woman in Florida is the initial basis for their kinship and bonds, but what truly draws Alice to Zora is her writing. Of course, it could be argued that Alice sees much of her own condition in Zora’s works, and that it’s the content of the novels as opposed to the medium of literature itself. However, I think she’s also just very drawn to her manipulation of language and writing style, and that’s fairly evident in Alice Walker’s later works.

      • I think Walker is able to identify in a literary way with Zora because of their common background and I think that’s okay. I mean artistic bonds depend a lot on common ground, and I was not able to relate to Zora as much as Walker when I read her books.

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