The Influence of Hurston’s Childhood on her Writing

By: Michaela Paris and Brenna McKee

“There is no agony like holding an untold story inside of you.” – Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston

Zora’s Beginnings

• Hurston was born on January 7, 1891, in Notasulga, Alabama.
• Her family moved to Eatonville, Florida when Zora was a young child.
• Her writings show that she has no memories of Alabama and spent most of her time in the town of Eatonville.
• Hurston was a free spirit and voiced her opinion even as a child.

Zora Neale Hurston's Family

Zora’s Family

• Hurston’s father was a strict preacher while her mother encouraged her free spirit
• Hurston’s mother passed away in 1904 when she was 13 years old.
• Her father remarried soon after his wife’s passing. Hurston recalls her stepmother as too busy for children and that she came across as cold.

Zora’s Town of Eatonville

• Just outside of Orlando, Eatonville is described by Hurston as “a city of five lakes, three croquet courts, three hundred brown skins, three hundred brown skins, three hundred good swimmers, plenty guavas, two schools and no jail house.” (The Official Zora Neale Hurston Website)
• Eatonville was one of the first towns to incorporate African Americans.
• This was evident when someone like Zora looked around and saw all of the achievements of African Americans in the town
• For example, Zora’s father John worked in Eatonville’s town hall.

Zora’s Writings

• After her studies in Howard University, Hurston went to New York in 1925.
• This was during the beginning of the Harlem Renaissance, which inspired Hurston to write fiction.
• Hurston’s most famous novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, was published in 1937. Her other famous works of literature include Jonah’s Gourd VineMoses Man of the Mountain, and her autobiography Dust Tracks on a Road.

Zora’s Childhood in her Writing

Their Eyes Were Watching God“The sun was gone…It was the time to hear things and talk. These sitters had been tongueless, earless, eyeless conveniences all day long. Mules and other brutes had occupied their skins. But now, the sun and the bossman were gone, so the skins felt powerful and human. They became lords of sounds and lesser things. They passed nations through their mouths. They sat in judgment.”

• This quote from Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God reflects Hurston’s childhood in Eatonville, growing up around powerful African-American men such as her father. The men in the story, just like her father and the other men in her life from Eatonville, ran the town when people of other races were not there.

“The familiar people and things had failed her so she hung over the gate and looked up the road towards way off.”

• This quote, also from Their Eyes Were Watching God, refers to the main character looking for a more freeing life. This is something Hurston also searched for growing up with her strict father and cold step mother.

“This freedom is more than a notion Moses. It is a good thing”

• This quote is from Hurston’s Moses, Man of the Mountain. Although slavery is not something Hurston witnessed first hand, growing up she was surrounded by the oppression of African Americans.
• Even some of the events and characters in her stories reflect things in Hurston’s life. One example of this is in Jonah’s Gourd Vine, the main character becomes a pastor for the church, just as her father was.
• It is evident that her childhood relationships, surroundings, and events majorly influenced her most popular books.

Works Cited

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006. Print.

—. Jonah’s Gourd Vine. New York, NY: Perennial Library, 1990. Print.

—. Edited by Henry Louis. Gates. Moses, Man of the Mountain. New York: Harper Perennial, 2009. Print.