Barracoon

by

Zora Neale Hurston

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Barracoon: Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In celebration, the villagers make a drum and perform songs from their homeland. All of the villagers brought over on the Clotilda gather from the various plantations to be together. They don’t want to stay with the people that used to own them, but they don’t know where to go. Some of the villagers have gotten married and had children. Everyone wants to build houses and create a safe village, but they can’t do so without any land.
For Cudjo, the Middle Passage represents the end of his life within his family and tribe. However, as the villagers reunite, their shared trauma on the Clotilda cements their bonds and inspires them to create a community to replace the one they originally lost.
Themes
The American Dream Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
The villagers decide to work and save up money to buy passage back to Africa. The men tell the women not to spend their money on “fine clothes,” and the women reply that the men had better not do so either. However, no matter how hard they work it seems impossible to get enough money for the expensive journey.
It’s cruel and ironic that while the Meaher brothers brought human cargo from Africa without much trouble, it’s impossible for Cudjo to repeat the journey. Right now, America is not so much a destination as a trap.
Themes
The American Dream Theme Icon
The villagers must think about what to do, and they decide to appoint someone as the ruler, so that they can deliberate communally as they once did in Africa. They appoint Gumpa as leader because he is a relative of the king of Dahomey and a nobleman in their native land. No one resents his Dahoman heritage, because he was sold into slavery just like everyone else.
Even though the Dahomans attempted to elevate themselves over other tribes by capturing and trading slaves, they’ve only achieved this high status within West Africa; in America, a Dahoman nobleman is as vulnerable as any other black person. This passage juxtaposes the power of Dahomey over neighboring tribes with their own exploitation by white slave traders.
Themes
Slavery and Racism Theme Icon
After deliberating, the villagers decide that it’s only fair for the Meahers to give them some land for their village, after all the time they’ve worked without pay. The villagers appoint Cudjo to approach the brothers, because he “always talkee good.”
The villagers’ selection of Cudjo to speak for them suggests that he’s always been known for his ability to craft a compelling narrative, and emphasizes the role of storytelling in advocating for a community’s rights.
Themes
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
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At this time, Cudjo is working in a mill operated by Tim Meaher, and one day the man sits down next to a tree Cudjo is chopping. Cudjo knows now is the time to speak up for his countrymen, and he feels the importance of his task so much that he almost cries. Tim Meaher asks why he looks so sad, and Cudjo says that “I grieve for my home.” Meaher counters that he has “a good home” now, but Cudjo says even if he owned the entire river, the railroad, and all the land around, he wouldn’t want it because it’s not his native land. He says that since the Meahers brought them to America as slaves, he should give them a piece of land where they can build their homes.
Here, Cudjo is saying that even if he fulfilled the American Dream by attaining land and prosperity, he would rather be in Africa; he both emphasizes the lack of opportunity available to him in America and questions the fundamental validity of the idea of America as a uniquely desirable place to live. Cudjo’s ideas of fairness and justice derive from the clear laws of his tribe, but the next passage will show that such ideals are not extended to African Americans.
Themes
Slavery and Racism Theme Icon
The American Dream Theme Icon
Jumping up, Tim Meaher explodes, calling Cudjo a “fool” and says that he’s not going to “give you property on top of property.” He says that he took good care of his slaves, and he doesn’t owe them anything now that they’ve been taken away from him.
Even though Cudjo is no longer technically a slave, Meaher makes clear that he still considers him “property” and not deserving of treatment accorded to an equal. Episodes like this emphasize the long legacy of slavery on African Americans.
Themes
Slavery and Racism Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Cudjo reports Meaher’s words to Gumpa and the others. They decide that now they must pool their money to buy land. Eventually, they purchase a piece of land from the Meahers, who “doan take off one five cent from de price for us.”
Cudjo starkly communicates the horrible irony of paying money to people who once enslaved him; rather than providing new opportunity, life in American forces Cudjo to cooperate with his exploiters.
Themes
The American Dream Theme Icon
Gumpa is named as the leader of the town, and two other men are appointed as judges. The villagers decide on certain rules to govern themselves, and if anyone breaks the rules the judges issue a reprimand. For example, if a man is often drunk the others speak to him, and if he doesn’t break the habit they whip him.
To combat the lack of legal protection and equality they experience in America, Cudjo and the others create laws based on the systems with which they grew up. Here, African values are aligned with fairness while American law connotes injustice.
Themes
Slavery and Racism Theme Icon
The American Dream Theme Icon
Cultural Relativism Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Everyone helps to build each others’ houses on the land. At first, Cudjo doesn’t build one for himself, because he doesn’t have a wife. They name the village Africatown. Even though they know they’ll never go back to Africa, they have decided to “make de Affica where dey fetch us.”
Cudjo makes an equivalence between a home and a wife, showing that to him the material security of a house is nothing without the emotional security of a family.
Themes
Family Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Much of the surrounding black community ostracizes the residents of Africatown, calling them “ig’nant savage.” However, Free George visits the village often, encouraging to adopt Christianity. The villagers don’t want to worship with the other people that make fun of them, so they build their own church, which is still standing today. Concluding his story thus, Cudjo sends Hurston away for the day.
The hostility of the surrounding black communities is the most troubling to Cudjo, since it comes from people who share his heritage. Their dismissal of Africatown residents as “savages” shows how much they have internalized racism and constructs of white cultural supremacy.
Themes
Slavery and Racism Theme Icon
Cultural Relativism Theme Icon