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Published: 03-12-2019

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The Realities of Racism in the Author's Childhood in Dust Tracks on a Road, an Autobiography by Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston, in her autobiography Dust Tracks on a Road, enriches our sense of her childhood by not just utilizing lush descriptive imagery that paints a romanticized portrait of a life once innocent and totally free from racial prejudices, but as well as the harsh reality of contrast between the clashing mentalities of her unsubmissive albeit socially unwary mother and her father, who was hardened by the realities of racism.

Hurston starts the passage describing the virtually utopian landscape of her home in the South, producing note of the hundreds of “fleshy, white, fragrant” jasmine blooms lining the entrance and the abundance of fruits, chicken, home-cured meat, and eggs she and her siblings had access to in their garden. Her heavy usage of the word “plenty” and romanization of the living circumstances in Hurston’s house mirrors the wide-eyed awe and wonder of any child in the presence of something unlimited in number, even typical foods. Hurston describes how most most of her childhood was spent at home, which explains the fascination she had of the really “rare” apple or beef stew that came from Papa’s trip to Orlando or the North. Hurston also acknowledges her younger self’s unbridled joy and enthusiasm via the retelling of her and her siblings passing the time with merry playtimes. She recounts the instances when she played “hide and whoop, chick-mah-chick, and other boisterous games” with numerous other young children, continuing the lighthearted description of innocent childhood imagination.

Even so, later in the passage, Hurston shifts to a somewhat darker tone as she reveals the contrast amongst her mother and father. Hurston was encouraged by her mother to “jump at de su”, to keep her “sassy tongue” and “stiff neck” rather than turn herself into a submissive tiny girl. Her father was the polar opposite, continuously warning Hurston of the white folks and the dangers that awaits her and her resistance to become a “mealy mouthed rag doll”. This introduction of conflict turns the passage into a darker, but a lot more realistic path Hurston’s childhood was starting to grow to be threatened by the presence of the white man. Hurston voices her previous confusion with her dad’s anger. She speaks distantly of the impending threat, understating the reality of the circumstance by calling her father “not so hopeful” and saying that “it did not do as well properly for Negroes to have as well much spirit”. It would make sense that Hurston as a child wouldn’t comprehend the severity of racial prejudice she had spent all her life sheltered within an all black neighborhood with a mother that was as equally sheltered inside an all black neighborhood.
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