Of the two great African-American novels of the late 1930s, Richard Wright’s Native Son is overtly confrontational, urban-set and passionately concerned with the problems of racial conflict. By contrast, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God is more interested in the wider questions of personal identity and is set in rural black communities where white characters are largely absent. Defiantly refusing to place the “race problem” at the heart of her literary enterprise, Hurston was chiefly concerned with documenting the patterns of individual lives—the way people speak, their daily rituals, the ethos of a community. For Hurston, this defiance formed part of a larger pattern of behavior, an outspoken earnestness which often led to controversy—and consigned her to eventual poverty—but was inextricable from the literary genius that led to the creation of a highly distinctive and permanently enduring body of work.
To read the rest of the article, please continue to The House Next Door.