(Re)covering lost lore : folklore adaptations in Zora Neale Hurston and Gloria Naylor.
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Though folklore is a knowledge-sharing, identity-forming practice that is utilized by a number of cultural groups, many scholars deride its emphasis on orality and storytelling. One reason may be that folklore practitioners are often members of marginalized cultures; for example both Zora Neale Hurston and Gloria Naylor, two prominent African American female authors, use folklore, their written literature. In doing so, both Hurston and Naylor recognize the value folklore has played in African American culture and they give voice to its rich complexities. To address concerns raised by critics, the first chapter examines scholarship regarding Hurston’s works, particularly her autobiography Dust Tracks on a Road. Traditionally, Hurston critics interpret her writing as subversively concerned with race issues; however, a comparison between Hurston’s published text and holograph manuscript reveals that Hurston’s views on race are indeterminate. As a result, her published works, particularly her nonfiction, need to be analyzed through a different lens: folklore. By looking at folklore, I will address Hurston’s engagement with racial issues and her desire to move beyond racial restrictions. Folklore, then, is crucial to understanding Hurston’s nonfiction texts because it both reaffirms Hurston’s connection to racial issues and recognizes the complexities within Hurston’s storytelling. The second chapter builds upon the first by analyzing the folklore genres used in Dust Tracks on a Road to demonstrate how Hurston creates a holistic picture of the African American folklore identity. Notably, she recognizes that Western myth, African forms, fairy tale, and the picaresque all influence the African lore of the American South. In doing so, Hurston creates a more complicated picture of African American folklore. She reveals that myth, a term that will be used to denote Western mythology, communicates the heroic identity, African forms reinforce communal identity, fairy tales provide relatable archetypes, and the picaresque promotes gender stereotypes. Then she moves beyond these forms to subvert genre expectations; thereby creating new folklore that is representative of her contemporary African American experience. The final chapter shows the influence Hurston has on Gloria Naylor, a contemporary African American female author. In Mama Day, Naylor utilizes the same four folklore genres as Hurston. In her text, however, Naylor employs folklore in a slightly different manner. For example, she reveals that myth, in the form of Shakespearean literature, denotes societal values, African forms reinforce communal identity, fairy tales provide relatable archetypes, and the picaresque reveals identity. the then, like Hurston, subverts genre expectations to create folklore that is representative of contemporary African American culture. Unlike Hurston, though, Naylor does not use folklore to explore the complexities within herself, but within her culture. Together, these chapters reveal the way in which oral culture, particularly folklore, pervades the written texts of African American women. By sustaining the traditions of African American folk culture, Hurston and Naylor pay homage to a culture that is often ignored by critics and also recognize the influence that various cultural groups – European, Native American, and African – have had on African American customs. Furthermore, both authors note the evolutionary nature of folklore and folk culture, demonstrating the adaptations African American communities have undergone during the twentieth century. By doing so, both Hurston and Naylor complicate and rewrite conventional perceptions of African American culture to create a richer, more complex, picture of folklore communities.