Modernism: Hurston and “How It Feels to be Colored Me”
Zora Neale Hurston’s writing embodies the modernism themes of alienation and the reaffirmation of racial and social identity. She has a subjective style of writing in which comes from the inside of the character’s mind and heart, rather than from an external point of view. Hurston addresses the themes of race relations, discrimination, and racial and social identity. At a time when it is not considered beneficial to be “colored,” Hurston steps out of the norm and embraces her racial identity.
In “How It Feels to Be Colored Me,” Hurston breaks from the tradition of her time by rejecting the idea that the African American people should be ashamed or saddened by the color of their skin. She tells other African Americans that they should embrace their color and be proud of who they are. She writes, “[A socialite]…has nothing on me. The cosmic Zora emerges,” and “I am the eternal feminine with its string of beads” (942-943). Whether she feels “colored” or not, she knows she is beautiful and of value. But Hurston writes about a time when she did not always know that she was considered colored.
Hurston writes about how she moved to Jacksonville, Florida, and it wasn’t until then that she realized she wasn’t just Zora—she was also colored. She says, “I was not Zora of Orange County any more, I was now a little colored girl” (941). It was after she was thrown against the backdrop of a white community that others made her feel colored. But even though she was made aware of her differences she did not feel any anger about slavery or the discrimination she was faced with. She states, “…I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes,” and “I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negrohood…” (941). Hurston was telling her people to stand proud, as she was, and not live in anger. Hurston felt like it was a waste of time to be angry or sad about discrimination and the past, and as she says about weeping about it, “…I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife” (941). She stood up and spoke to her people in her writing about their racial and social identity through her own experiences. She is telling them that the world is their oyster and do not look behind. There is no time for weeping.
There were times when Hurston was discriminated against and because she knew who she was as a person and a woman she was not angered by it. She...