Zora Neale Hurston

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Themes and Colors
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
Slavery and Racism Theme Icon
The American Dream Theme Icon
Cultural Relativism Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Barracoon, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Storytelling and Memory

A non-fiction narrative of the last survivor of the slave trade’s Middle Passage, Barracoon seems to defy genre. In part, it’s a memoir and oral history narrated by the protagonist, Cudjo. However, it’s also an ethnographic study recorded by author Zora Neale Hurston as part of an academic research mission. Hurston structures the book’s narrative to emphasize its contradictions. Rather than erasing herself from the page, she explains the nature of her assignment…

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Slavery and Racism

Barracoon tells the story of Cudjo Lewis, the last surviving victim of the Middle Passage, one of the most appalling aspects of the trading network that supplied the Americas with slaves. One of only a few firsthand narratives of this forced journey, Barracoon is clearly important because it bears witness to the historical trauma of slavery. However, Cudjo devotes remarkably little time to describing the Middle Passage or even his five years in…

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The American Dream

An important part of American ideology, the “American Dream” is the idea that the United States is a uniquely egalitarian society in which opportunity and upward mobility are accessible to anyone who works hard. Barracoon is a story of American society; however, the protagonist Cudjo’s life is largely a story of downward mobility. In telling his narrative, Cudjo emphasizes the abundance and tranquility of his upbringing in West Africa, comparing it to the suffering…

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Cultural Relativism

Zora Neale Hurston’s interviews with Cudjo Lewis, the last survivor of the Middle Passage, devotes substantial time to explaining the mores of the West African society in which Cudjo grew up. In doing so, Hurston draws on the concept of cultural relativism articulated by her mentor, the anthropologist Franz Boas. Cultural relativism is the idea that rituals and customs should be understood in the context of their particular culture, rather than evaluated…

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In Barracoon, Cudjo Lewis describes being torn away from his family in West Africa and eventually forming a new family in Alabama after his enslavement ends. In Cudjo’s narrative, family quickly emerges as the most central aspect of life. In Africa, it’s the foundation of a strong and vibrant society; in America, it helps Cudjo heal after years of suffering as a slave. At the same time, Cudjo loses both his families, the first…

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