Zora Neale Hurston's and Richard Wright's feminist empowerment in constructions of southern African-American femininity 2014.

Date of Award


Document Type

Access Controlled Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Matthew Lessig


Traditional literary opinion has long cast Zora Neale Hurston and Richard Wright as opposing ends of African-American fiction's spectrum. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. writes that "[f]ew authors in the black tradition have less in common than Zora Neale Hurston and Richard Wright" (198). In 1993, Paul Gilroy warned that the perceived schism between Hurston and Wright has resulted in "today's fashionable but unhelpful polarization which inhibits adequate analysis of either writer" (177). Recent reevaluations of their texts, however, reveal considerable common ground. William Maxwell argues for recognition of the two writers' "harness[ing] ... of a self-conscious version of black folk ideology to provide a sympathetic countermeasure to a Great Migration that threatened to empty the population and cultural power of a southern Black Belt" (157). Maxwell compares Hurston's "The Gilded Six-Bits" and Wright's "Long Black Song" and concludes that both stores offer "resistance to the temptation of migration," though neither "restore[s] an arcadian scene in which natural relationships rout money relationships' (169). The two writers' treatments of women in stereotypical gender roles also explore changes in folk culture. An examination of the representations of female empowerment in Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God and Wright's "Bright and Morning Star" reveal both writers' expansion and subversion of the roles folk women could play in the culture of the Jim Crow South, especially in their shared climaxes of their respective female protagonists' murder of male characters.


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