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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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5. Masculine Heroes   

13. Southern Renaissance

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Activities: Author Activities

Zora Neale Hurston - Teaching Tips

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  • Hurston is often noted for her deft use of the South Florida African American vernacular and her masterful ability to integrate it smoothly with more standard English. Nevertheless, some students may initially be resistant to this; some might even be offended if they regard the vernacular as making Hurston's African American characters seem ignorant or comical. The audiobook version of Their Eyes Were Watching God can help students learn to read the dialect, while a few simple questions about Hurston's use of dialect should help your students appreciate the effect of this language. Why does Hurston have her characters talk this way? What does their language tell us about these characters? How is their use of vernacular related to the time and place about which Hurston is writing? Students should be encouraged to consult the table on Black English in Unit 8.

  • Although Hurston was trained as an anthropologist, her portrayals of southern life are not necessarily realistic. For example, in "The Gilded Six-Bits," Joe and Missie May are portrayed as childlike and simple. While this allows for a greater contrast between the couple's initial happiness and the estrangement that follows Missie May's infidelity, it hardly reflects the average life of African Americans in the rural South in 1933. The ease with which the couple's happiness is eventually restored is also not typical--infidelity was generally dealt with much more harshly in the rural South at this time. After pointing this out to your students, you might ask them to think about why Hurston chose to create characters like Missie May and Joe. What advantage is there for a writer in depicting the world as we wish it was, rather than as we actually find it? What are the disadvantages of this strategy? Such conversation should also help your students better understand the critical debates surrounding Hurston's work--both in her own time and today.

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