Negro Expression

Essay by KEEBLER100 April 2006

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What does Zora Neal Hurston identify as the "Characteristics of Negro Expression?"

In 1933, Zora Neil Hurston wrote "Characteristics of Negro Expression" to frame the Negro or African-American as she saw him. She saw the results of the Great Migration as terrifying and spasmodic, unbearably inhumane and devastating to those left behind. For Hurston, rural black people were being forgotten; disappearing amidst the heady enthusiasm of the urban New Negro Movement. In Hurston's essay she describes the different concepts of what it meant to be a black American in the South. She sees the new Negro as encompassing theses elements: being dramatic, having the will to adorn, being angular, asymmetrical, dancing, folkloric, having originality, mimicry, non-reserve, having a peculiar dialect, and hanging out at the jook or pleasure house. These are just a few of the compositional elements used to described the forgotten Negro in the south. By reexamining Hurston's essay, critiques will have a proper understanding of these social characteristics and will have a better understanding of the African-American in relation to his identity.

Hurston was part of the "Talented Tenth," an elite group of well educated African-American professionals who argued that the mission of establishing black identity and thus gaining social acceptance and economic and political stability would be vitally strengthened through arts and letters. Hurston's work and criticism have helped to shape the manner in which black American artists and academics view themselves. Also how they emphasize humanness inherent in black people through referencing the diversity of voices and talents in black America in the South, as well as their essential connection through "legacy" to the African continent.

Hurston begins her essay with the first characteristic of the southern Negro expression "Drama," in which she describes almost every phase of African-American existence as being "highly dramatized"(Hurston 296),