Barracoon

by

Zora Neale Hurston

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Barracoon can help.

Barracoon: Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Hurston stays away for a week, worrying the whole time that Cudjo won’t see her again. In order to make her visits more appealing, she brings two hams and a watermelon when she next comes to his house. Before they begin the interview, they share part of the watermelon and Cudjo shows her around the Old Landmark Baptist Church, where he works as the sexton.
Describing the gifts that she brings in order to induce Cudjo to talk to her, Hurston makes clear that she’s on an academic assignment—the interviews are not a spontaneous conversation between friends. In moments like this, she emphasizes the inherent artificiality in the process of gathering oral histories.
Themes
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
Cudjo begins to explain more about his own family. His father, who was not wealthy, had three wives. The second of the wives is Cudjo’s mother. Cudjo says modestly that he won’t ever pretend he’s the son of the first wife. Cudjo is his mother’s second out of six children, but his father has twelve additional children by his other wives.
Again, Cudjo conceives of himself primarily in relation to his siblings, as well as through his mother’s position among the other wives in his family.
Themes
Family Theme Icon
Hurston asks Cudjo if any women are infertile, but Cudjo says if anyone has trouble conceiving, they visit an elder who prescribes them a special tea, after which they are able to get pregnant. This works in almost all cases.
While Cudjo’s recollection of the women’s childbearing abilities may not seem entirely realistic, it conveys the sense that family is of paramount importance to everyone in the tribe.
Themes
Family Theme Icon
Cudjo spends his time in the compound, playing with all the other children. They compete in running and wrestling, and they hunt for coconuts and bananas. When their mothers want them to calm down, they call them into the house and tell them stories about the animals, who used to talk like people. Hurston expresses interest in these stories, but Cudjo says he will tell them another time.
Although it often seems that Cudjo is rambling, in fact he decides when to digress and when to keep to his point. Moments like this show the reader how naturally gifted he is at crafting stories, even when his narrative doesn’t align neatly with established literary forms.
Themes
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
Get the entire Barracoon LitChart as a printable PDF.
Barracoon PDF
When Cudjo is a teenager, the chief declares that all the boys over fourteen should assemble before him. Cudjo is very excited because he wants to joint he army. However, boys like him have to undergo a lot of training before this happens. He learns how to walk silently, track animals, hunt, use a bow and arrow, and make a campsite. Cudjo is glad that he’s becoming a man, like his older brothers.
Within his family and his tribe, Cudjo has a clear sense of his trajectory—like his older brothers, he will take satisfaction in becoming a soldier and an adult man. In America, no such upward trajectory towards a respected status in the community is evident to him.
Themes
The American Dream Theme Icon
Cudjo also learns to sing war drums, chanting with the other boys that “if we are crossed we shall tear down the nation who defies us.” However, Cudjo notes that Akia’on doesn’t actually want to start a war. He wants his army to be strong so that no one else attacks them. For four or five years, Cudjo continues his training as a soldier, becoming strong and competent.
Cudjo’s description of Akia’on’s peaceful tendencies contrasts with the bloodthirstiness he sees in the Dahoman king’s slave raids; this creates the sense that Dahomey is contravening the accepted rules governing behavior between tribes.
Themes
Slavery and Racism Theme Icon
Hurston asks Cudjo about the practice of juju, which he’s mentioned before. Seeming “reluctant,” Cudjo says he doesn’t know anything about this—it’s only grown men and elders who know about juju, and he was taken away at the age of nineteen, before he was fully initiated into the culture as a man.
Hurston’s question reminds Cudjo that he never actually lived out his life in the tribe as he hoped, which is probably why he’s reluctant to address it.
Themes
Slavery and Racism Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Cudjo continues that one day, in the market place, he notices a pretty girl and follows her a while without speaking, as is the local custom. An older man observes this and visits Cudjo’s father, saying that he’s growing up and it’s time to have a banquet to celebrate his transition to manhood. Cudjo visits the initiation house where the men play special instruments the women are not allowed to hear (it’s thought that if they do, they will die). Cudjo is allowed to share the ceremonial meal, but he has to stay silent and listen to show respect to his elders. He’s reminded that “all men are still fathers to you.” He’s given a peacock feather to wear, which symbolizes his initiation into the world of adult men.
At this point, Cudjo’s life is characterized by opportunity and promise. He knows that he will become accepted among the men and that he’ll soon start a family with a wife. This sense of security in the future contrasts starkly with life in America, where Cudjo is always subject to instability and curtailed opportunities. Cudjo’s childhood is far more reminiscent of the “American Dream” of opportunity and upward mobility than his life as a slave or free man in Alabama.
Themes
The American Dream Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon