Reflection of Harlem Renaissance in Hurston’s Literature | Teen Ink

Reflection of Harlem Renaissance in Hurston’s Literature

September 21, 2023
By MonaHuang BRONZE, Charlotte, North Carolina
MonaHuang BRONZE, Charlotte, North Carolina
2 articles 0 photos 0 comments

The Harlem Renaissance that took place in 1920s and ‘30s is considered doubtlessly one of the most profound art and social movements in the U.S history. During this movement, African Americans were inspired by art and literary works to seek freedom from control, and to be proud of their culture and racial identity. Although underappreciated in her lifetime, Zora Neale Hurston was now considered as one of the most influential writers in the Harlem Renaissance. In her literary works “How It Feels Like To Be Colored Me,” and “Their Eyes Are Watching God,” the main characters either break control of domination or develop racial pride to reach to ultimate self-acceptance. Hurston illustrated the predominant ideas of Harlem Renaissance through the life stories of her and her protagonists.

The Harlem Renaissance emerged as the result of the Great Migration started in World War I, in which hundred thousands African Americans migrated from the rural South to the urban area of the North for promising socio economic opportunities and freedom from racial discriminations. However, the Northern cities were far from the utopia that many African Americans dreamed at the time. Because of racist stereotypes and the fear that new migrants might take away their jobs, many white Americans acted hostile toward the African American community. Nevertheless, African Americans were encouraged by newly encountered opportunities to demonstrate their intelligence and cultural heritage through “a collection of poetry, fiction, graphic arts, and critical essays on art, literature, and music”(Wintz). Besides being an influential revolution of art, the


Harlem Renaissance “also affected politics, social development, and almost every aspect of the African American experience from the mid-1920s through the mid-1930s”(Wintz) by encouraging African Americans to break long standing racial stereotypes and to develop pride in their racial identity. Zora Neale Hurston, although unpopular for her reveal of social problems at her time period, was later recognized as a symbolic figure of the Harlem Renaissance for brilliantly illustrating the essential philosophy of the movement in her writings.

Zora Neale Hurston was considered as one of the most significant writers in the Harlem Renaissance. In her celebrated novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston reflected the idea of pursuing freedom from control and domination through the journey of the main character, Janie. In her marriage with Jody Stark, Janie was forced to be submissive to her abusive and controlling husband. Janie is neither allowed to express her opinions nor dresses herself freely. Initially, Janie has stood up for herself but soon discovered it only made Jody suppress her even more. Therefore Janie pretends to be obedient outwardly and “pressed her teeth together and learned to hush”(Hurston). However, inwardly Janie refuses to be a puppet of Jody and views herself as equal rather than subjected to him. After the death of Jody Stark, Janie “burnt up every one of her head rags and went about the house next morning with her hair in one thick braid swinging well below her waist”(Hurston 89). Janie’s head rags symbolize the domination that Jody Stark had on her; by burning them up, it represents that Janie is breaking up from the “chain” that restricts her from freedom. Similar ideas had been demonstrated in the Harlem Renaissance as African Americans tried to break away from white dominance both culturally and socio-economically. Hurston’s literary works not only emphasized freedom from control but also encouraged African Americans to establish racial pride and ultimately reach to self-acceptance. In her essay “How It


Feels to Be Colored Me,” Hurston described herself as “the only [African American] in the United States whose grandfather on the mother's side was not an Indian chief”(Hurston, “How”). Hurston urged African Americans to accept and embrace their racial identity, instead of pretending to be people from another ethnic background. Hurston had also evidenced her racial pride when she argued that although being different physically from the white Americans, she was “ not tragically colored. There [was] no great sorrow dammed up in [her] soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. [She did] not mind at all”(Hurston, “How”). Hurston was encouraging the African American community to not believe in the racist stereotypes and perceive themselves as inferior to white Americans.

In conclusion, the Harlem Renaissance was one of the most momentous cultural movements in American history. It laid the foundation for the later civil rights movement in the 1960s by raising awareness of societal problems faced by African Americans to a national level. Zora Neale Hurston, an almost iconic figure of the revolution, had played a significant role in building racial confidence and advocating for African Americans to break from control. Although countless racial injustices still exist today, these literary masterpieces inspired African Americans to have greater confidence in their culture and be affirmative in fighting racial discrimination.

Similar Articles


This article has 0 comments.