How it Feels to be Colored Me

by

Zora Neale Hurston

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Zora Neale Hurston Character Analysis

Zora Neale Hurston describes herself at various stages of her still young life: as a young black girl holding impromptu performances for white tourists, as a teenager encountering explicit discrimination for the first time, and as a student and writer in New York City. At the time of writing, Hurston is thoughtful and confident, and her account of how it feels to be “colored” in the 20th century is distinguished by its optimism. She’s passionate and adventurous, convinced that the future will bring accomplishments and acclaim. At times her self-assurance crosses into mock-arrogance. In describing herself this way, Hurston signals that she’s unapologetic about her own merit. It’s also a way to highlight the absurdity of racism, that white Americans would ostracize talented and charming people for their skin color. As Hurston writes, “How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It's beyond me.”

Zora Neale Hurston Quotes in How it Feels to be Colored Me

The How it Feels to be Colored Me quotes below are all either spoken by Zora Neale Hurston or refer to Zora Neale Hurston. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Race and Difference Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Applewood Books edition of How it Feels to be Colored Me published in 2015.
How It Feels to Be Colored Me Quotes

I am colored but I offer nothing in the way of extenuating circumstances except the fact that I am the only Negro in the United States whose grandfather on the mother's side was not an Indian chief.

Related Characters: Zora Neale Hurston (speaker)
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

I remember the very day that I became colored. Up to my thirteenth year I lived in the little Negro town of Eatonville, Florida. It is exclusively a colored town.

Related Characters: Zora Neale Hurston (speaker)
Page Number: 1-2
Explanation and Analysis:

They liked to hear me "speak pieces" and sing and wanted to see me dance the parse-me-la, and gave me generously of their small silver for doing these things, which seemed strange to me for I wanted to do them so much that I needed bribing to stop, only they didn't know it. The colored people gave no dimes. They deplored any joyful tendencies in me, but I was their Zora nevertheless.

Related Characters: Zora Neale Hurston (speaker)
Page Number: 4-5
Explanation and Analysis:

I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal and whose feelings are all but about it. Even in the helter-skelter skirmish that is my life, I have seen that the world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more of less. No, I do not weep at the world—I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.

Related Characters: Zora Neale Hurston (speaker)
Page Number: 6-7
Explanation and Analysis:

It is a bully adventure and worth all that I have paid through my ancestors for it. No one on earth ever had a greater chance for glory. The world to be won and nothing to be lost. It is thrilling to think—to know that for any act of mine, I shall get twice as much praise or twice as much blame. It is quite exciting to hold the center of the national stage, with the spectators not knowing whether to laugh or to weep.

Related Characters: Zora Neale Hurston (speaker)
Page Number: 8-9
Explanation and Analysis:

I do not always feel colored. Even now I often achieve the unconscious Zora of Eatonville before the Hegira. I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background. For instance at Barnard. "Beside the waters of the Hudson" I feel my race. Among the thousand white persons, I am a dark rock surged upon, and overswept, but through it all, I remain myself. When covered by the waters, I am; and the ebb but reveals me again.

Related Characters: Zora Neale Hurston (speaker)
Page Number: 9-10
Explanation and Analysis:

Music. The great blobs of purple and red emotion have not touched him. He has only heard what I felt. He is far away and I see him but dimly across the ocean and the continent that have fallen between us. He is so pale with his whiteness then and I am so colored.

Related Characters: Zora Neale Hurston (speaker), The White Friend
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

Pour out the contents, and there is discovered a jumble of small things priceless and worthless. A first-water diamond, an empty spool, bits of broken glass, lengths of string, a key to a door long since crumbled away, a rusty knife-blade, old shoes saved for a road that never was and never will be, a nail bent under the weight of things too heavy for any nail, a dried flower or two still a little fragrant. In your hand is the brown bag.

Related Characters: Zora Neale Hurston (speaker)
Related Symbols: Bags
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:
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Zora Neale Hurston Character Timeline in How it Feels to be Colored Me

The timeline below shows where the character Zora Neale Hurston appears in How it Feels to be Colored Me. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
How It Feels to Be Colored Me
Race and Difference Theme Icon
Zora Neale Hurston states that she is “colored” and does so without any apology or “extenuating circumstances.” She... (full context)
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Hurston claims she remembers the first day she “became colored,” which occurred when she was thirteen. (full context)
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Hurston describes her childhood growing up in Eatonville, Florida, a successful all-black community. The only time... (full context)
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Performance Theme Icon
Although some shied away from watching the tourists, Hurston loved to watch them and didn’t mind that the tourists noticed. She would speak and... (full context)
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When she was a child, Hurston believed the only difference between white and black people was that white people would pass... (full context)
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After Hurston turns thirteen, her family moves to Jacksonville, Florida, where the makeup of the community is... (full context)
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Hurston rejects the notion of being “tragically colored,” which she explains as nurturing a sense of... (full context)
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Instead of a backward-looking worldview that focuses on past wrongs, Hurston looks to the future and the possibility of greater freedom and achievement. Hurston specifically complains... (full context)
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Performance Theme Icon
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Hurston describes her experience now as an adventure and a grand opportunity for glory. As an... (full context)
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History and Opportunity Theme Icon
...is to try to keep as much as he can of what he already has. Hurston’s task is to win it for herself. (full context)
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That said, Hurston notes that she doesn’t always feel “colored.” She feels it most in white places like... (full context)
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To illustrate this, Hurston tells a story about taking a white friend to a black jazz club. As the... (full context)
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While Hurston was in a trance, her friend had been smoking calmly. He seems untouched by the... (full context)
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At other times, Hurston feels like she has no race. She feels like the expression of an eternal femininity... (full context)
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Hurston describes herself as a brown bag among white, yellow, and red bags. Each bag has... (full context)
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...its own assortment of objects, they’re often similar to the objects in differently colored bags. Hurston supposes that all the bags could be emptied and replaced at random without altering the... (full context)