Barracoon

by

Zora Neale Hurston

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Barracoon: Chapter 9 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The next day, Hurston drives Cudjo to the bay to eat crabs. On the way, he begins to talk about his marriage. After the founding of Africatown, he begins to notice a woman “from cross de water,” originally named Abila but now called Seely. He’s not married yet, and almost everyone else in the town has a family.
Here, Hurston collapses the distance between the everyday activity she and Cudjo are performing and his memories about Seely. In this sense, she’s suggesting how important oral history is to living and understanding one’s present-day life.
Themes
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
Cudjo approaches Seely and says that he wants to marry her because “I ain’t got nobody.” Seely asks him if he’ll be able to take care of her, and he says that he will treat her well and not beat her. Having agreed upon the matter privately, they begin to live together and “do all we kin to make happiness ‘tween ourselves,” without any kind of wedding.
Cudjo and Seely’s discussion is straightforward and touching. It’s clear that they share the same values and the same yearning to center themselves within a strong family network. It’s important to realize that their marital bond is independent of the formalities imposed by American culture.
Themes
Cultural Relativism Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Sometime afterward, Cudjo and Seely convert to Christianity officially. In the church, they are told that it’s not “right” to live together without an official marriage and license. Cudjo and Seely have a formal wedding, but Cudjo says he doesn’t “love my wife no mo’ wid de license than I love her befo’ de license…I love her all de time.”
Even though Cudjo and Seely accept that they must do the “right” thing, Cudjo still holds onto the value of African cultures by saying that the wedding license is irrelevant to his actual feelings about his wife.
Themes
Cultural Relativism Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
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Cudjo and Seely have six children, five sons and one daughter. They are very happy during this time, but it makes Cudjo sad to think about it now, because he’s very lonely. They give each child an English name for common use and an African name just “like we was in de Afficky soil.” Cudjo also adopts a surname at this time, according to American tradition. He wants to use his father’s name, O-lo-loo-ay, but it’s “too crooked” for America so he goes by Cudjo Lewis. Cudjo’s children are named Aleck, Jimmy, Poe-lee, David, Cudjo Jr., and Seely Jr.
Cudjo’s chosen surname, an Americanized version of his father’s name, reflects his desire to assimilate into the culture around him while staying faithful to his African roots. He bequeaths this desire to his children by making sure they have African names as well. However, while his faithfulness to African culture will give him moral and emotional strength it will actually make his children vulnerable to discrimination.
Themes
The American Dream Theme Icon
Cultural Relativism Theme Icon
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As the children grow up, American-born residents of surrounding town make fun of them, telling them that “de Afficky people dey kill folks and eatee the meat.” They say that they children are “kin to monkey.” Because of this, the boys often get into fights, often beating other men. People visit the house and tell Cudjo that his boys are trouble and might one day kill someone. Cudjo responds that, just like rattlesnakes in the woods, his sons only harm people who antagonize them.
Cudjo’s children seem to suffer a particularly intense form of racism, because they are not only black but also deeply rooted in African culture. When it comes from fellow black people, this racism is especially disturbing to Cudjo. It’s also important to note that it’s exactly this kind of pernicious stereotype that Hurston combats through rigorous and respectful descriptions of actual African customs.
Themes
Slavery and Racism Theme Icon
The American Dream Theme Icon
Cultural Relativism Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
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However, Cudjo’s explanations don’t change the hostility towards his sons. People tell him that his boys “ain no Christian” and that they are savages. It seems that because people perceive his family as savages, they think “we ain’ gottee no feelings to git hurtee.” The residents of Africatown do everything possible to raise their children well. They build a school house so that their children won’t be ignorant.
Even though Cudjo does make a good faith effort to conform to American cultural expectations, his children are excluded from and actively dehumanized by mainstream society. Although they have worked hard, America’s opportunity and equality remains inaccessible to them.
Themes
The American Dream Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Even though Cudjo loves his children deeply and does everything possible to help them, as a teenager Cudjo’s daughter Seely gets sick with a fever. Despite receiving medical attention, she dies. Cudjo’s wife Seely is distraught, and although Cudjo tries to comfort her, he too is overwhelmed with grief. This is the first time that “death find where my door is” in America, but he knows that death “come in de ship wid us” from Africa.
This is one of the only times that Cudjo mentions the Clotilda or the Middle Passage after he arrives in America. It shows that, for him, the Middle Passage remains associated with life’s most traumatic experiences, specifically the loss of treasured family members.
Themes
Family Theme Icon
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According to Christian tradition, young Seely has a funeral in the church and is buried in a coffin. Everyone gathers and sings an American hymn. Although Cudjo knows the words “wid my mouth,” in his heart he is singing a traditional mourning song from his homeland. He feels that his daughter must be very lonely in the churchyard, instead of at home.
Although Cudjo has adopted the practices of Christianity, he’s still more compelled by the funeral customs of his homeland. His mournful nostalgia for Africa now suggests the thought that Seely could have had a better life there.
Themes
The American Dream Theme Icon
Cultural Relativism Theme Icon
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Nine years later, a deputy sheriff kills Cudjo Jr. Cudjo is suspicious that this man isn’t even a law enforcement officer, because he doesn’t arrest his son “like a man” but hides in a butcher wagon in order to shoot young Cudjo in the town. Cudjo takes a bullet in the throat, and his parents rush him home and lay him in the bed. Cudjo hates to see his son struggling for breath, and wishes he could die in his place. Seely stands by the bed, crying and encouraging her son not go give up hope, but after two days Cudjo dies.
This part of the narrative touches, although briefly and vaguely, on the history of troubled interactions between African Americans and law enforcement. For Cudjo, this tragic episode is another indication that institutions put in place to protect Americans not only do not serve him, but actively malign his family.
Themes
The American Dream Theme Icon
The man who killed young Cudjo jr. is now the pastor of a church in Plateau. Cudjo tries to forgive him, but he feels that, as a Christian, the man should come to him and beg his forgiveness. He mourns that his “po’ Affican boy […] doan never see Afficky soil.”
Here, Cudjo highlights the paradox implicit in the fact that while his son has never enjoyed life in Africa, he’s still discriminated against and eventually killed because he is an “Affican boy.”
Themes
Slavery and Racism Theme Icon
The American Dream Theme Icon
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