Zora Hurston confirms Solomon’s declaration.

There are a couple of book reviews being drafted, but in the meantime, I was recently reminded of this story from Zora Neale Hurston’s Mules and Men.

In 1935, ZNH laid bare what was obvious about relations between the sexes and where they were headed even back then.  It has only been amplified over the past 50 years. Totally worth grasping the dialect.

You see in de very first days, God made a man and a woman and put “em in a house together to live. ‘Way back in them days de woman was just as strong as de man and both of ’em did de same things. They useter get to fussin ’bout who gointer do this and that and sometime they’d fight, but they was even balanced and neither one could whip de other one.

One day de man said to hisself, “B’Iieve Ah’m gointer go see God and ast Him for a li’l mo’ strength so Ah kin whip dis ‘oman and make her mind. Ah’m tired of de wa things is.” So he went on up to God.

“Good mawnin’, Ole Father.”

“Howdy man. Whut you doin’ ’round my throne so so dis mawnin’?”

 “Ah’m troubled in mind, and nobody can’t ease mah spirit ‘ceptin’ you.”

 God said: “Put yo’ plea in de right form and Ah’ll hear and answer.”

“Ole Maker, wid de mawnin’ stars glitterin’ in yo’ shin crown, wid de dust from yo’ footsteps makin’ worlds upo worlds, wid de blazin’ bird we call de sun flyin’ out of you right hand in de mawnin’ and consumin’ all day de flesh and blood of stump-black darkness, and comes flyin’ home every evenin  to rest on yo’ left hand, and never once in yo’ eternal years, mistood de left hand for de right, Ah ast you please to give me mo’ strength than dat woman you give me, so Ah kin make her mind. Ah know you don’t want to be always comin’ down way past de moon and stars to be straightenin’ her out and its got to be done. So giv me a li’l mo’ strength, Ole Maker and Ah’ll do it.”

“All right, Man, you got mo’ strength than woman.”

So de man run all de way down de stairs from Heben he got home. He was so anxious to try his strength on de woman dat he couldn’t take his time. Soon’s he got in de house he hollered “Woman! Here’s yo’ boss. God done tole me to handle you in which ever way yo’ boss please.”‘

De woman flew to fightin’ ‘im right off. She fought ‘im frightenin’ but he beat her. She got her wind and tried ‘irn agin but he whipped her agin. She got herself together and made de third try on him vigorous but he beat her every time. He was so proud he could whip ‘er at last, dat he just crowed over her and made her do a lot of things she didn’t like. He told her, “Long as you obey me, Ah’Il be good to yuh, but every time yuh rear up Ah’m gointer put plenty wood on yo’ back and plenty water in yo’  eyes.

 De woman was so mad she went straight up to Heben and stood befo’ de Lawd. She didn’t waste no words. She said, “Lawd, Ah come befo’ you mighty mad t’day. Ah want back my strength and power Ah useter have.”

“Woman, you got de same power you had since de beginnin’.”

 “Why is it then, dat de man kin beat me now and he useter couldn’t do it?”

 “He got mo’ strength than he useter have, He come and ast me for it and Ah give it to ‘im. Ah gives to them that ast, and you ain’t never ast me for no mo’ power.”

 “Please suh, God, Ah’m astin’ you for it now. jus’ gimme de same as you give him.”

God shook his head. “It’s too late now, woman. Whut Ah give, Ah never take back. Ah give him mo’ strength than you and no matter how much Ah give you, he’ll have mo.

De woman was so mad she wheeled around and went on off. She went straight to de devil and told him what had happened.

He said, ” Don’t be disincouraged, woman. You listen to me and you’ll come out mo’ than conqueror. Take dem frowns out yo’ face and turn round and go fight on back to Heben and ast God to give you dat bunch of keys hangin’ by de mantel-piece. Then you bring ’em and Ah’ll show you what to do wid ’em.”

So de woman climbed back up to Heben agin. She was mighty tired but she was more out-done than she was tired so she climbed all night long and got back up to Heben. When she got to heaven butter wouldn’t melt in her mouf.

“0 Lawd and Master of de rainbow, Ah know yo’ power. You never make two mountains without you put a valley in between. Ah know you kin hit a straight lick wid a crooked stick.”

 “Ast for whut you want, woman.”

 “God, gimme dat bunch of keys hangin’ by yo’ mantel befo’ de throne.”

“Take em.”

So de woman took de keys and hurried on back to de devil wid ’em. There was three keys on de bunch. Devil say, “See dese three keys? They got mo’ power in ’em than all de strength de man kin ever git if you handle ’em right. Now dis first big key is to de do’ of de kitchen, and you know a man always favors his stomach. Dis second one is de key to de bedroom and he don’t like to be shut out from dat neither and dis last key is de key to de cradle and he don’t want to be cut off from his generations at all. So now you take dese keys and go lock up everything and wait till he come to you. Then don’t you unlock nothin’ until he use his strength for yo’ benefit and yo’ desires.”

De woman thanked ‘im and tole ‘im, “If it wasn’t for you, Lawd knows whut us po’ women folks would do.”

She started off but de devil halted her. “Jus’ one mo’ thing: don’t go home braggin’ ’bout yo’ keys. jus’ lock up everything and say nothin’ until you git asked. And then don’t talk too much.”

De woman went on home and did like de devil tole her. When de man come home from work she was settin’ on de porch singin’ some song ’bout “Peck on de wood make de bed go good.”

When de man found de three doors fastened what useter stand wide open he swelled up like pine lumber after a rain. First thing he tried to break in cause he figgered his strength would overcome all obstacles. When he saw he couldn’t do it, he ast de woman, “Who locked dis do’?”

 She tole ‘im, “Me.”

 “Where did you git de key from?”

“God give it to me.

He run up to God and said, “God, woman got me. locked ‘way from my vittles, my bed and my generations, and she say you give her the keys.”

 God said, “I did, Man, Ah give her de keys, but de devil showed her how to use ’em!”

“Well, Ole Maker, please gimme some keys jus’ lak ’em so she can’t git de full control.”

“No, Man, what Ah give Ah give. Woman got de key.”

“How kin Ah know ’bout my generations.

 “Ast de woman.”

So de man come on back and submitted hisself to de woman and she opened de doors. He wasn’t satisfied but he had to give in. ‘Way after while he said to de woman, “Le’s us divide up. Ah’Il give you half of my strength if you lemme hold de keys in my hands.”

De woman thought dat over so de devil popped and tol her, “Tell ‘im, naw. Let ‘im keep his strength and you keep y’ keys.”

 So de woman wouldn’t trade wid ‘im and de man had to mortgage his strength to her to live. And dat’s why de man makes and de woman takes. You men is still braggin’ ’bout yo’ strength and de women is sittin’ on de keys and lettin’ you blow off till she git ready to put de bridle on you.

Yes, I realize it’s not Biblical but, this is folklore. It still proves that there really is nothing new under the sun. Which is why it is so vital to read books. They are not a substitute for THE Book, but still. The older, the better.

 

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Intriguing Authors: Zora Neale Hurston

zora neale hurstonThe Reading Room rotation consists mainly of Christian books (both doctrinal and historical), books relevant to my personal history, historical fiction, classic fiction, and children’s books. All else is tier 2 stuff that I may or not get around to depending  on reviews and research.

Of late, I have spent a fair amount of time going back over what I thought I knew about my place of origin, and black American culture worth embracing (circa 1900). This brings me to my extensive study of Zora Neale Hurston.

Because I heard a lot about her as I grew up, I thought I knew a lot about her. My gathering of her writings was prompted mainly by the fact that reading her books offers me insight into my hometown. I then stumbled into learning about her rather than simply remembering odd facts from elementary school.

Hurston, widely embraced after her death while largely ignored most of her life, was in many ways a larger than life persona. Even the black feminist writers of the 80’s and 90’s, who revived her from obscurity, have a love/confused relationship with her. Her politics, views on relationships, and unwillingness to engage in racial victim-hood put her at odds with much of what they embrace.

In fact it was this very thing that caused her to be largely dismissed by the writers of the Harlem Renaissance. A cursory, unthinking post modern person would assume they criticized her because she was a female in a male dominated movement. That was however, not the case. They disliked Hurston’s work because she refused to write about black life in relation to white America. She didn’t think it did justice to the life and culture of blacks to pretend that their lives held no joy or worth except as compared to the white American mainstream. From her Dust Tracks on a Road:

“I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all. I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal and whose feelings are all hurt about it. Even in the helter-skelter skirmish that is my life, I have seen that the world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more or less. No, I do not weep at the world—I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.”

This permeated her writing and her refusal to get in on the racial protest writing that typified the acclaimed writers of the Harlem Renaissance stood in the way of her ability to be widely accepted. Much was and has been made of Richard Wright’s criticism of Hurston, but they simply approached what it meant to be black in America from different angles. To Wright, being black was serious business, while Hurston viewed it as a simple fact of her life which carried some good, and some bad along with it. Same as everyone else. It wasn’t that she was unaware of discrimination:

Sometimes I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It is beyond me.

It was simply that she didn’t let it define her. The thing most bewildering to today’s cadre of black writers and activists, however, were Hurston’s politics. She wasn’t a liberal. That much is obvious. And although the neocons of today try to co-opt her views as evidence that she would be Republican were she alive today, it is probably closer to characterize Hurston as a libertarian, more akin to Ayn Rand than Ann Coulter. She recoiled against being treated as an inferior creature, and it didn’t matter if it was to her supposed benefit:

“It seems to me that if I say a whole system must be upset for me to win, I am saying that I cannot sit in the game, and that safer rules must be made to give me a chance. I repudiate that. If others are in there, deal me a hand and let me see what I can make of it, even though I know some in there are dealing from the bottom and cheating like hell in other ways.”

On the idea of one black person’s actions being a credit to or an indictment of us all:

“Now, suppose a Negro does something really magnificent, and I glory, not in the benefit to mankind, but in the fact that the doer was a Negro. Must I not also go hang my head in shame when a member of my race does something execrable? . . . The white race did not go into a laboratory and invent incandescent light. That was Edison. . . . If you are under the impression that every white man is an Edison, just look around a bit.”

It has been enlightening and fun to read and learn about this woman whose re-emergence put my hometown on the map.

If not for a few profound differences,  I’d say Hurston was my kind of woman.