Brief Biography of Zora Neale Hurston
Born in Alabama, Zora Neale Hurston grew up in Eatonville, Florida, one of the country’s only all-black towns. Her father was a sharecropper and preacher; all of her grandparents were slaves. As a teenager, Hurston was sent to a Baptist boarding school, but when her father abruptly stopped paying her tuition, she dropped out and worked in a traveling theater troupe. Eventually, Hurston received her high school diploma; she went on to attend Howard University graduated with a degree in anthropology from Barnard College, where she was the only black student. While at Barnard, Hurston worked with Franz Boas, a famous anthropologist; she traveled throughout the American South and the Caribbean, conducting anthropological research that inspired her fiction writing and produced the Barracoon interviews. For most of her life Hurston supported herself by working as a journalist and publishing fiction pieces in magazines, living in Florida and Harlem, where she became a noted figure of the Harlem Renaissance. However, she often suffered periods of financial hardship; during one of these times, while she was working as a maid and living in a Florida welfare home, she died of a stroke. Today, she is best known for her novel Their Eyes are Watching God, set in her hometown of Eatonville.
Historical Context of Barracoon
Originating in the sixteenth century and lasting until the nineteenth, the so-called Triangle Trade was a network that brought African slaves to America, where they worked on plantations to produce raw goods like sugar, tobacco, and cotton; these raw goods were then brought to European factories and turned into manufactured goods, which were then exported to the world and exchanged in Africa for more slaves. The Middle Passage, or the sea journey of kidnapped Africans to the Americas, was a particularly brutal and inhumane aspect of the slave trade. Due to overcrowding, illness, starvation, and vicious maltreatment, about two million Africans died during the Middle Passage. However, it remains one of the least-documented aspects of slavery, as most slaves who endured it were never freed or able to record their stories.
Other Books Related to Barracoon
is the most recent addition to the genre of slave narratives, literature that documents slavery from the point of view of its victims. Most slave narratives were written in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and often published by abolitionist groups in order to turn popular opinion against slavery. The Life of Olaudah Equiano
is one of the earliest such works and, like Barracoon
, is one of the few to include a firsthand account of the terrible Middle Passage. The most famous and influential slave narrative is The Narrative of Frederick Douglass
, written by one of America’s foremost abolitionists and black intellectuals. Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
describes the unique oppression of female slaves who are denied rights and vulnerable to sexual abuse. Zora Neale Hurston, the twentieth-century writer who recorded Cudjo’s narrative, is most famous for her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God
but also wrote important essays about black identity and the Harlem Renaissance, such as How It Feels to be Colored Me
Key Facts about Barracoon
Full Title: Barracoon
When Written: 1927
Where Written: Alabama
When Published: 2018
Literary Period: Modern
Genre: Memoir, oral history, slave narrative
Setting: West Africa and Alabama
Climax: Cudjo is liberated from slavery and Africatown is founded.
Antagonist: Slavery, white supremacy
Point of View: First person
Extra Credit for Barracoon