“African American writers of the 20th Century are about the business of destroying those images and myths that have crippled and degraded Black people, and the institution of new images that will liberate them.” To what extent might this be considered to be the case in Zora Neale Hurston’s stories, ‘Sweat’ and ‘The Gilded Six Bits’?
The origins of African American literature date back to the eighteenth century with the rise of the slave trade and as such, the realities of their experiences were recounted in the literary form known as slave narrative, which can be defined as a limited account of events whereby “the writer... finds himself in an irresolvably tight bind as a result of the very intention and premise of his narrative”1. These memoirs provided the basis for today’s classification of African American literature and as the slave industry continued to prosper into the nineteenth century and beyond, the published literature became both more stylised and fervent, resulting in powerful and profound accounts of the enslaved through different literary styles such as poetry, folklore, short stories and novels.
Moving into the twentieth century, the descent of the slave trade was intensified by the explicit representation of racial pride in what became known as the Harlem Renaissance. This essentially induced freedom and the individuality of the African American population by allowing for the celebration of black culture in the form of literature, art and music. The Harlem Renaissance extended throughout the 1920s and well into the 1930s, detonating an “explosion of literary output in the United States... [as] black writers found their various niches within the diversifying publishing system”2. It was during this era that authors such as Zora Neale Hurston came to light, providing seemingly authentic representations of African American life in a time where racial pride founded liberation from literary oppression.
Hurston herself studied extensively in the...