Ellen Herman

Department of History, University of Oregon


Reading and Discussion Questions, Zora Neale Hurston, I Love Myself When I Am Laughing . . . and Then Again When I Am Looking Mean and Impressive

1. What do Alice Walker and Mary Helen Washington suggest were the most important and controversial dimensions of Hurston's career? What does Washington mean when she refers to "the intellectual lynching of Zora Neale Hurston" on p. 16?

Excerpt from Dust Tracks on a Road

1. What difference did it make to Hurston that she was born in Eatonville, Florida, "a pure Negro town" (p. 28)?

2. How does Hurston describe her mother's death and its meaning for her own life?

3. How did Hurston become a folklorist? Who was "Papa Franz"?

4. Who was Hurston's "godmother"?

5. What did Hurston learn during her time in the Bahamas? How did it shape her view of slavery and its history?

6. What does Hurston say about love and her own romantic experiences with men?

7. What kind of personality comes through in this reading?

Excerpt from Mules and Men

1. What does Hurston mean when she writes that "the spy-glass of Anthropology" made it possible for her to perceive her own cultural traditions (p. 82)? What challenges did she face in collecting African-American folklore?

2. What do you think about Hurston's use of black vernacular language? What do you think her contemporaries' response to this might have been?

3. Is it significant that the people of Eatonville call their stories "lies"?

4. Which of these stories do you like most? What do you think the following stories are about: How God made some people black (p 101). How men and women bargained with God and the devil (pp. 102-105). Old John and Massa's horse (pp. 110-113).

Excerpt from Tell My Horse

1. Hurston comments on the dramatic difference between the Jamaican racial order and the one that prevailed in the U.S. Explain.

2. What attitudes and practices did Hurston encounter in Jamaica related to love and marital relationships and sexuality?

"How It Feels to Be Colored Me," "The 'Pet' Negro System," My Most Humiliating Jim Crow Experience," "Crazy for Democracy," "What White Publishers Won't Print"

1. What does Hurston mean when she explains that she "became colored" at age 13 and that she was "not tragically colored"? What does she mean when she explains that she doesn't feel angry about racial discrimination?

2. What main point is Hurston trying to make in her analysis of the "pet" system? In her analysis of democracy? Do you think that Hurston regarded herself as a "pet"?

3. Why does Hurston think that white readers are so uninterested in the variety of African-American life experiences? Why is that a problem?