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LIT 6934: Literature of Place: Florida

October 28 Class 10: Home and Community

    Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God
    Selections from Mules and Men (Canvas)
    James Weldon Johnson, excerpt from The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, in Florida Literature, p 93
    "Homeplace: a site of resistance" by bell hooks (Canvas)
    DUE: Post #9
    Photo Essay on HRSP

Class Objectives:

    Discuss the fiction of Hurston and - to a lesser degree Johnson -- as constructions of Florida

    Analyze racial dimensions of placemaking and homeplace (Hooks)

    Begin to discuss the overlapping oppressions of racism, sexism and speciesism

Notes and Discussion Questions:

    Zora Neale Hurston's work constructs a Florida inhabited by fully realized African-American characters, and the texts offer us an opportunity to consider the ways in which race and sex construct ideas of place. The works also take up the question of human-animal relations and offer us examples of non-dominating incorporation of animals in human society

    Please note that the English Department and the Humanities Institute are sponsoring the guest lecturer Gilbert King on Monday, October 27, the day before this class. His book Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys and the Dawn of a New America recently won the Pullitzer Prize for general nonfiction. It is a story about Jim Crow Florida, and so directly related to some of the issues we are discussing. I encourage you to attend his lecture at 7:00 pm in the USF Marshall Center Oval Theatre.

    Their Eyes Were Watching God is our main piece for consideration this week.

    Note the way the story constructs place and Florida in particular. What role does storytelling play in the construction of place?

    In Danticat's foreword, she emphasizes her sense of pride that Hurston wrote this novel in seven weeks in Haiti. Given Buell's concept of the embeddedness of a text from its inception to its reception, how significant is this?

    How does the "place making imagination" or notions of place attachment operate in this novel?

    Danticat: "Like all individual thinkers, Janie Crawford pays the price of exclusion for nonconformity, much like Hurston herself, who was accused of stereotyping the people she loved when she perhaps simply listened to them much more closely than others, and sought to reclaim and reclassify their voices" (xv). Consider this nonconformity in terms of being in-place or being out-of-place. How do gender scripts or racial scripts determine place in the novel and how does Janie and/or Hurston challenge this?

    Does hooks' ideas on gender, race and home help us to understand Janie's searching?

    How does leaving her place (and returning) initiate at different times in the novel Janie's growth as a human being? Compare this in the end to her pity for the women who gossip about her on the porch.

    How is Florida represented in terms of different cultural heritages? (Native Americans, Carribeans, African-Americans, European Whites?) Different classes?

    In his Introduction to Place, Cresswell reviews the work of Kay Anderson on the construction of Chinatown in Vancouver. "Anderson's argument is that these places cannot simply be read as symbols of essential Chineseness but rather that such places are ideologically constructed as places of difference." She traces the history of discourses explaining the presence of these groups in place, realizing that their location and its socio-economic implications are part of a political history. Can you apply these ideas to the construction of the historical place of Eatonville? To the literary representation of Eatonville? How does geography of place also have cultural implications? Where are these groups of people located? (Don't forget to consult a map.)

    In what ways might we read this text ecologically?

    How is the hurricane represented in the novel?

    Consider Nanny's statement to Janie that the "nigger woman is de mule of de world." What are the implications of this phrase? What does Nanny mean and how does Janie interpret it? What might it suggest about the ways in which racism, sexism and speciesism overlap? Does it function as a theme for the novel?

    Examine the antics around the mule that Janie eventually takes on as her pet. How does this community respond to the animal? What stands out about Janie's response?

    What other events in the novel involve human-animal contact? Examine, for instance, what happens to Tea-Cake when he is bit by a rabid dog during the hurricane. What might the story suggest about the behaviors of animals and humans?

    In Mules and Men chapters 6 and 7 deal with human-animal stories. How do you understand these stories? Gates sees this collection as evidence of Hurston's skill at conveying the black idiom. How does that in turn construct place through language?

    Gates: "The myths she describes so accurately are in fact 'alternative modes for perceiving reality,' and never just condescending depictions of the quaint" (202). How important is truth in these stories? What might "truth" mean in these stories? Consider the questions of representation that we have been considering with respect to referentiality and nature. Are there ways that these might inform our understanding of the "truth" of representation in race?

    Gates suggests a huge divide in the racial ideology of the leading men of the Harlem Renaissance (Hughes and Wright) and Hurston herself. Rather than see "that racism had reduced black people to mere ciphers, to beings who only react to an omnipresent racial oppression, whose culture is 'deprived' where different, and whose psyches are in the main 'pathological'," Hurston "thought this idea degrading, its propagation a trap, and railed against it" (199). What evidence of this do you see in her writings for today?

    Zora Neale Hurston is introduced in the Florida Literature anthology (79) with a brief excerpt from Mules and Men. The editor offers this note: "Hurston's work was largely ignored for a period after her death, in part because of her use of black southern dialect and language. As you read this excerpt from her memoir, think about the difference between accurately representing the spoken word and furthering a stereotype or caricature through speech" (79). Clearly this has been problematic in the reception of Hurston. Is there a way that place studies might bring to bear some theoretical issues that would yield insight? In what ways are dialects and language a feature of place?

    James Weldon Johnson is also introduced in the anthology (93), and it is important to note that Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man is a fiction in part based in Jacksonville. I have an additional excerpt in PDF that discusses cigar making in Florida. The excerpt here also takes up the contentious issue of racial inferiority. In what ways might the Cake Walk or the Uncle Remus Tales be pivotal racial issues? Again, can the application of place theories yield some insight into the complexity of these issues?

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