Zora Neale Hurston

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Barracoon Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Zora Neale Hurston's Barracoon. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

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.
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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

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

Breaking the Law. Cudjo Lewis was one of the few Middle Passage survivors alive in the twentieth century because the international slave trade was abolished in 1807. By the 1860s, only a few slave traders—such as the man who bought Cudjo and other kidnapped members of his village—were still operating illegally and secretly.

Resting Place. Because Zora Neale Hurston was destitute when she died, her grave was unmarked and lost until Alice Walker, another writer, tracked it down and paid for a gravestone that read, “A Genius of the South/ Novelist, Folklorist/Anthropologist.”