Feminism and Racism in African American Literature

Topics: African American, Black people, Zora Neale Hurston Pages: 5 (1875 words) Published: April 25, 2007
Throughout literature, feminism and racism have played crucial roles in the lives of the characters and plotlines in stories and novels. Audiences are captivated by the drama a character must face in order to succeed in life or society. This struggle to overcome personal discrimination and adversity has transcended centuries and genres of literature. African American literature is no exception. Authors of African American literature would base the events that were taking place in the world around them and incorporate them into their novels. Often times this was the only voice African Americans had in society. The treatment of African Americans in America was filled with brutality and hate. However, they have also suffered by the attempts of white slave owners to try and erase not only the history of African Americans, but their heritage as well. While a Haitian can trace his or her roots to those of a great African king, many African Americans can only trace their history to a simple bill of sale (Thornton 733). Although this demonstrates the dramatic impact slavery has had on African Americans, none have continued to face the effects more than African American women.

During the times of slavery, the order of importance in American society was clearly mapped out. First came white males, next white women, then black males, and finally black women. Both white and black women faced the struggle of feminism, however, nothing can compare to the treatment African American women faced from not only white males, but black males as well. They ranked on the bottom step of society's social ladder, and often times lived extremely hard lives. They would suffer the same harsh and unbearable treatment from black men, as they would white. Physical abuse, emotional abuse, and sexual assault were all a part of the everyday lives of African American women during the age of slavery.

Zora Neale Hurston had a passion for writing about the destructive nature of love. She often focused her stories on the lives of women who were left weak and vulnerable to men who could not control their desire to conquer new territory. She constantly explored the fine line between passion and violence in the lives of African American men. Much of her most well known novel Their Eyes Were Watching God came from Hurston's own personal experience. At the time she wrote the novel, she had just broken off an affair with a drastically younger man. She was 40 and he was only 23. Although their relationship was filled with passion and excitement, he had certain ideas on how a woman was supposed to view and depend on her husband. These ideas went against the very core she felt she was as a person and could not bring herself to conform to them. Their Eyes Were Watching God is a direct reference to their doomed romance ( Delbanco 103-104). Their Eyes Were Watching God is an important novel that sheds light on the difficulties faced by African American women. This novel focuses on the life of Janie Crawford and the trials and tribulations she faced on her journey to find personal independence in a time where African American women were given very little freedoms. Although the novel isn't a story of her search for a partner, it contains several examples of the mistreatment she had to endure at the hands of several African American males. Janie Crawford was an attractive, confident black woman. After being abandoned by her mother, she is raised by her grandmother whose primary concern is to find a suitable husband for Janie. During the 1920's and 1930's, it was important for a black woman to find a husband for security and social purposes. African American women weren't viewed as being able to support or take care of themselves. With this in mind, Janie marries a farmer named Logan Killicks. However, it isn't long before Janie realizes how miserable she is. Logan does provide the security she needs, however, their relationship lacks any real emotional connection,...

Cited: Delbanco, Andrew. "The Political Incorrectness of Zora Neale Hurston." Thej
Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, No. 18. (Winter, 1997-1998), pp.
Jordan, Jennifer. "Feminist Fantasies: Zora Neale Hurston 's Their Eyes
Were Watching God." Tulsa Studies in Women 's Literature, Vol. 7, No. 1. (Spring, 1988), pp. 105-117.

Thornton, Jerome E. "The Paradoxical Journey of the African American in
African American Fiction." New Literary History, Vol. 21, No. 3, New Historicisms, New Histories, and Others. (Spring, 1990), pp. 733-745.
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