The following paper takes a close look at the book by Zora Neale Hurston called I Love Myself When I Am Laughing…and Then Again When I Am Looking Mean and Impressive. In her research article, Diana Burnett writes that “Zora Neale Hurston is an acclaimed, multitalented artist whose works have been canonized for their literary genius” (254). The book I Love Myself is an anthology which contains various essays and excerpts from Hurston’s novels. A total of fourteen selections have been included in the book due to their literary value and historical significance. This essay focuses on the first chapter in the anthology, which is called “Autobiography, Folklore, and Reportage.” Here, Hurston presents her life’s story – the story of her childhood and the numerous revelations that came with it. All this is explored in the paragraphs below.
Specifically, the author of this paper analyzes the main character described in these autobiographical stories, as well as the setting, the conflict, and its resolution.
To begin with, Hurston starts telling her story from the moment of her birth. She talks about her parents’ marital life, their numerous conflicts, and her brothers and sisters. Hurston writes in an intuitive and a highly descriptive manner at the same time. After introducing the reader to her parents and their personalities, she examines her own self: her place in the family, the stories that her parents told her, and her own path to self-empowerment. There is a certain charm in Hurston’s stories, an innate continuity which cannot go unnoticed. The author roots her biography in storytelling, while using a confident, emotional tone.
As a matter of fact, Hurston describes herself as an inquisitive, yet lonely child. She felt that she stood out from the crowd early on. For instance, Hurston writes: “In contrast to everybody about me, I was not afraid of snakes” (40). One of the most important texts in “Autobiography, Folklore, and Reportage” is called “The Inside Search.” Here, the protagonist talks about her visions, which left her both empowered and powerless. Her visions concerned the challenges that she would have to face in life; somehow, she knew. Among these visions she felt lonely and orphaned. What is more, she calls this period “the coming of the pronouncements” (Hurston 42). In fact, this essay is followed by another one called “Wandering.” Here, Hurston talks with deep sadness about her mother’s death; she was only nine years old at the time. This difficult period in the author’s life can be summarized with the following words: “Mama died at sundown and changed a world” (Hurston 45). Thus, with her mother’s death began the immensely difficult period of having to come to terms with the cruelties of the world. What is also important, the protagonist is constantly drawn toward memories of her parents’ conflicts. Up to the point where it feels like this conflict is an innate part of her, something which had become internalized to a great extent.
Since her father was of rather explosive nature (while her mother was a soft and even meek woman), Hurston felt like an orphan after her mother’s death. Just like an orphan, she had to discover the world in all of its beauty and atrocity all by herself. Hence, a reference can be made to her earlier visions which occurred when she was only seven, prior to her mother’s death. The protagonist is constantly wandering about the world, in search of something greater which she could fall back on. On the one hand, the author portrays her resilient essence. On the other hand, Hurston shows that if she had not learned to maneuver around others, she would not have survived. For instance, she writes that her life was in danger several times and in order to escape this danger she had to “sense the delicate balance and maintain it” (Hurston 51). Thus, she developed her capacity to adjust.
So what is the conflict from the perspective of the author’s personal story and how does she manage to resolve it? If one looks beyond the numerous conflicts which she had with others and onto the deeper conflict that she carried within, it becomes apparent: Hurston’s greatest strife was the feeling of innate loneliness and the pain of being detached from the rest of the world. In fact, she could sense this conflict long before her mother’s death, knowing that she had to tackle a fate which was unique and terrifying all at once. Like a hermit, she had to come to terms with the inevitable truth of a life that could not be grasped by anyone but herself. No wonder she calls herself an orphan quite early on in her piece.
When it comes to the protagonist’s relationship with the other characters, Hurston can be characterized as an engaged observer in most of her interactions. Able to embrace her own essence through the union of her inner guidance and external observation, she comes to a reconciliation of the past, the present, and the future. As for the literary techniques, there is much descriptive language used in the book. Hurston relies on imagery and metaphors to express her deepest fears an hopes. When she is talking about her dream about “the pronouncements,” she paints the scene so vividly that the confusion, amazement, and despair rush through the reader’s blood immediately (Hurston 42).
Summing up, the book is filled with on point observations about the author’s life. Hurston applies introspective writing techniques that make her stories insightful and brutally honest. Furthermore, the author skillfully links multiple real-life events to her inner emotional journey. At the end of the day, this anthology is aimed at all adults who are interested in novel-type, biographic literature.
- Burnett, Diana. “Illuminating the Legacy of Zora Neale Hurston: Visionary, Architect, and Anthropologist of African Religious Subjectivities.” Journal of African Religions, vol. 4, no. 2, 2016, pp. 255-66.
- Hurston, Zora Neale. I Love Myself When I Am Laughing and Then Again When I Am Looking Mean & Impressive. The Feminist Press at CUNY, 1979.