Literary Analysis: Sweat by Zora Neale Hurston

Topics: Black people, White people, Race and Ethnicity Pages: 5 (1976 words) Published: July 21, 2013
“Drenched in Light”
In the short story “Drenched in Light” by Zora Neale Hurston, the author appeals to a broad audience by disguising ethnology and an underlying theme of gender, race, and oppression with an ambiguous tale of a young black girl and the appreciation she receives from white people. Often writing to a double audience, Hurston had a keen ability to appeal to white and black readers in a clever way. “[Hurston] knew her white folks well and performed her minstrel shows tongue in cheek” (Meisenhelder 2). Originally published in The Opportunity in 1924, “Drenched in Light” was Hurston’s first story to a national audience. "Drenched in Light" is a story centered on a young girl named Isis Watts. Isis is faced with the oppressive nature of her grandmother, working constantly, and giving up her childhood. Every childish act Isis does is met with a beating from Grandma Potts. Being the only female child around increases the pressure she receives to be a lady. When Grandma Potts wakes up to find Isis and her brother preparing to shave her, Isis runs out of the house in fear of another beating. After, Isis hears a band near her house and remembers that a carnival is in town. With Grandma Potts out of sight and out of mind and nothing to look forward to besides a beating for the attempted shaving, Isis grabs the red tablecloth to use as a Spanish shawl and follows the band to town. Isis runs for the woods when Grandma Potts sees her dancing and entertaining a crowd of people. Soon a white couple from the carnival find her playing in the water and promise to take her home and assist her in escaping Grandma's wrath. Isis returns to an irate Grandmother, berating her with insults and frustrations about her brand new tablecloth being ruined. The White lady offers Grandma $5 to replace the tablecloth and requests the company of Isis saying, "I want her to go on to the hotel and dance in that table cloth for me. I can stand a little light today”(Hurston 18). At first glance, the story just seems to be a simple tale of innocent “Isis the Joyful” and her naïve relationship with a white couple. If you look beneath the planted stereotypes of Hurston’s racial manipulation, the story is in fact is a “complex interaction of race and gender in the lives of black women” (Meisenhelder 6). Throughout the story Isis struggles not with not only whites, but her own identity and future as a black woman. It appears that Isis, a young vibrant black girl, has been purchased by a white woman for $5. This transaction feels a lot like slavery and at first we pity Isis to have been handed over by her Grandmother for such a small amount of money without hesitation or remorse. When the story is further dissected we realize that there is much more to little Isis than meets the eyes. “Everybody in the country, white and colored, knew little Isis Watts, Isis the Joyful” (Hurston 10). Right now, Isis is adored by many. She is a mischievous little girl whose antics have earned her a place in the hearts of the entire town. As a young girl, she is not intimidating. The townspeople have not yet realized the power her spirit has over them. If she was able to entrance the entire town dancing in the street draped in a table cloth, imagine what power she might possess after becoming a woman. Ancient Egypt worshiped “Isis” as the goddess of fertility. She is the ideal mother and wife as well as the matron of nature and magic. She was the “friend of slaves, sinners, artisans, the downtrodden, as well as listening to the prayers of the wealthy, maidens, aristocrats and rulers” (Clark 240). By giving Isis such an empowering name, Hurston suggests that she will grow up to be a strong, beautiful, and empowered black woman. Lillie Howard recognizes that “[Grandma Potts] keeps up a stern front to keep the girl in line, to perhaps break her spirit so that she will not fall victim to a world which had little tolerance for spirited blacks”(150). Grandma Potts may...

Cited: (1946) :240-42 JSTOR. Web. 15 Nov. 2010.
Davis, Doris. “ ‘De Talkin’ Game’: The Creation of Psychic Space in Selected Short Story
Fiction” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature 26.2 (2007) 269-86
Hurston, Zora Neale. “Drenched in Light.” Spunk. Ed. Bob Callahan. Berkeley, CA: Turtle Island Foundation, 1985. Print.
Meisenhelder, Susan. Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick, Race and Gender in the Work of Zora Neale Hurston. Tuscaloosa, AL: U of Alabama P, 1999. Print.
Stine, Jean C. and Daniel G. Marowski, eds. Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 30. Detroit:
Gale, 1984
Williams, Regennia N. “Zora Neale Hurston and a History of Southern Life” Journal of African American History 92.1 (2007):129. Web. 1 Nov. 2010.
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