Barracoon

by

Zora Neale Hurston

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Barracoon: Chapter 12 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Cudjo brings his narrative to a close by saying that one night, Seely wakes up suddenly and tells him that she’s been dreaming about the children and that they are cold. It’s a chilly night, and Cudjo remembers sadly that when their children were young, Seely often checked on them throughout the night to make sure they had enough blankets. The next day Seely asks to visit the church and Cudjo watches her walk from one child’s grave to the other, “lak she cover dem up wid mo’ quilts.”
The contrast between the maternal care and familial happiness Cudjo recollects, and the loneliness and grief of his life currently, is tragic to read. Even after Cudjo has escaped slavery, his family life deteriorates from relative stability to loss and sadness.
Themes
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The next week Seely dies, although she’s never shown any signs of illness. Seely doesn’t want to leave Cudjo, and she cries at the thought of his loneliness; but she needs to be wherever her children are. Remembering his wife’s death, Cudjo cries out. He says that “de wife she de eyes to de man’s soul,” and that he can’t “see” anymore without his wife.
Not only does Cudjo miss Seely, he feels that a part of his own being has died. Just as his family in Africa was once central to his self-conception, his bond with Seely now feels essential to his character.
Themes
Cultural Relativism Theme Icon
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The month after that, Cudjo’s one remaining son, Aleck, dies as well. Now he’s in the same state as when he arrived in America: his only family left is his daughter-in-law and grandchildren. He tells her to “stay in de compound,” and he will leave his land to her after his death.
Cudjo’s use of the word “compound” to describe his house and land shows that he has tried to recreate the lifestyle of his childhood as much as possible in America.
Themes
The American Dream Theme Icon
Cultural Relativism Theme Icon
One day, Ole Charlie, the oldest man from Africa still living in the town, visits Cudjo with some others and asks Cudjo to “make us a parable.” Cudjo addresses the group, telling them to suppose Ole Charlie was walking to church with a parasol and left it for safekeeping at Cudjo’s door, knowing he can pick it up later. Cudjo likes the parasol, and asks the group if it’s right to keep it. They all say that he cannot, because it belongs to Charlie. Cudjo says that the parasol is like Seely, who belongs to God and was only left “by my door” for a certain time.
The fact that other people come to Cudjo for parables and advice affirms his respected position in the community. Moreover, telling stories like this helps Cudjo make sense of Seely’s death and keep up his own spirits for the rest of his life. It’s clear that storytelling is a central part of Cudjo’s life, not just something he does for Hurston’s benefit.
Themes
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
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Another time, the group comes and asks for another story. Cudjo tells them that he and his wife are riding to Mount Vernon on the train, but Seely gets off early, at Plateau; she tells her husband that even though she doesn’t want to leave him, she knows she has to get off here. When she’s gone, the conductor comes to Cudjo and asks where he wants to stop. Cudjo tells the group he’s still traveling towards Mount Vernon, and when he gets there he “no talk to you no more.”
Cudjo’s story conjures a kind of fatalism here—he can’t control where he or anyone else gets off the “train” but has to accept whatever happens. Cudjo takes this resigned stance towards most of the traumas that occur in his life; framing his worldview through stories allows him to emphasize his own stoicism, rather than the enormity of the misfortunes he’s endured.
Themes
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
By this time, Hurston has spent two months with Cudjo. Some days they eat a lot of fruit without talking about anything. Some days they talk without eating. Some days he won’t speak to her at all, but generally she feels that they are good friends. Hurston is very sad when she finally bids Cudjo farewell, taking some peaches from his garden for her journey.
Initially, Hurston emphasized the artificiality of her interactions with Cudjo, but here their friendship seems very genuine. Throughout the work, Hurston points out the way storytelling can simultaneously bring people together and highlight their differences.
Themes
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Leaving Cudjo’s house, Hurston turns back to see him standing at the edge of his land. Driving on the highway, she imagines Cudjo returning to his porch and his memories of beautiful African girls, the drums of his homeland, and the parables he tells. Hurston feels that Cudjo is unafraid to die, because in spite of years as a Christian, “he is too deeply a pagan to fear death.” However, she knows that he is respectful and humble “before the altar of the past.”
In the final paragraph, Hurston emphasizes the enduring strength of Cudjo’s bond with his homeland, and the role of memory and storytelling in preserving it. Telling his story doesn’t make Cudjo any happier, but it does help him make sense of the past and gives him strength to contemplate what lies ahead for him.
Themes
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
The American Dream Theme Icon
Cultural Relativism Theme Icon
Related Quotes