Zora Neale Hurston’s “The Eatonville Anthology” is comprised of fourteen short sketches which offer humorous commentary on lives of residents in Eatonville, Florida. Several characters, such as Joe Clarke, owner of the general store and Eatonville’s mayor and postmaster, and Elijah Moseley, appear in a number of the segments while many other characters appear only once.
In the first segment entitled “The Pleading Woman,” Mrs. Tony Roberts begs for food for her family. First she begs for meat from Mr. Clarke who is annoyed, because he knows that her husband is a good provider and she does not need to beg. She then visits various homes until she has collected everything she wants for the day. Apparently, Mrs. Roberts is never satisfied with what she is given. The narrator explains that the next day her begging continues.
In “Turpentine Love,” Jim Merchant’s love for his wife endures, explains the narrator, despite the fact that she has had all her teeth out. When they were courting, the fact that she was “subject to fits… didn’t cool his love” either. One Sunday Mrs. Merchant’s mother tries to stop one of her daughter’s fits by giving her a dose of turpentine and accidentally spills some in her eye. Somehow this cures her fits, and she never has another one.
In the untitled Segment III, Becky Moore has “eleven children of assorted colors and sizes.” The narrator pokes fun at Becky, claiming that the fact that Becky’s children are fatherless is completely the men’s fault, since she “has never stopped any of the fathers of her children from proposing.”
Segment IV, “Tippy,” focuses on “the most interesting member” of Sykes Jones’s family, the dog. Tippy has been sentenced to death several times for a variety of food theft crimes. Despite these threats, he manages to remain skinny, alive, and friendly.
In Segment V, “The Way of a Man with a Train,” Old Man Anderson lives in the country and has no interest in seeing a train. “Patronage and ridicule” finally force him to drive his horse and wagon into the woods beside the railroad to wait for a train. He secures his horse far from the tracks where it will be safe. When the train finally comes “thundering over the trestle spurting smoke,” Old Man Anderson becomes so frightened that he drives away, damaging his wagon extensively.
Segment VI is entitled “Coon Taylor.” Coon Taylor is said to have never done any real stealing, except for chickens, watermelons, and muskmelons. No one has ever managed to catch Coon stealing, but Joe Clarke decides to try. During the first attempt, Joe falls asleep and Coon ends up inadvertently cracking a melon on Joe’s head. However, Clarke later catches Coon thieving during sugar cane season and makes him sit down and eat all the cane he has stolen. Joe also banishes Coon from the town for three months.
“Village Fiction,” Segment VII, features Joe Lindsay, Lum Boger, and Brazzle, three residents who compete for the title of town liar. A tall tale is recounted in this section, entitled “Exhibit A,” and it is unclear who actually tells this lie. The unspecified storyteller claims to have witnessed a doctor cut up a woman in Orlando one day, remove all her organs, wash them, dry them, and put them back. The phrasing of the section makes it difficult to know who is actually telling the lie.
Segment VIII is another example of a “village fiction” concerning a character named Sewell. According to Elijah Moseley, Sewell moves so often that every time he enters his backyard, the chickens expect another move and “lie down and cross their legs, ready to be tied up again.”
Segment IX concerns Mrs. Clarke, Joe Clarke’s wife. Clarke yells at her and beats her whenever she makes a mistake working in the store. In church on Sunday Mrs. Clarke closes her eyes and”shakes the hand of fellowship with everybody in the Church . . . but somehow always misses her husband.”
Segment X describes the behavior of another woman in church, Mrs. McDuffy. Her husband also beats her at home, because he does not like her shouting in church. Mrs. McDuffy tells Elijah Moseley that she cannot stop shouting, but Mr. McDuffy tells Elijah that she shouts because she knows Mr. McDuffy dislikes it.
“Double-Shuffle,” Segment XI, concerns the kind of dancing people did in the “good old days” in Eatonville before World War I and before the age of the fox trot. The grand march of Eatonville, unlike the grand march performed by whites “still has a kick .. . [and is] too much for some of the young folks.”
Segment XII,”The Head of the Nail,” features Daisy Taylor, the town vamp. Daisy torments the timid Mrs. Laura Grooms about her alleged affair with Laura’s husband. The teasing occurs one Saturday night when the town gathers on the post office porch in its customary fashion “to tell stories and treat the ladies.” Laura Grooms surprises everyone by beating Daisy with an ax handle because Daisy refuses to stop taunting. The beating is so thorough that Daisy falls into a ditch. Defeated, Daisy leaves Eatonville for Orlando.
“Pants and Cal’line,” Segment XIII, is the story of Mitchell Potts who cheats on his wife and buys his mistress shoes. Unlike Laura Grooms, Mitch’s wife Cal’line is known to “do anything she had a mind to.” This sketch ends inconclusively, with Mitch “smiling sheepishly” as he passes the porch sitters on his way to visit Miss Pheeny, and Cal’line following two minutes behind him, “silently, unsmilingly,” carrying an axe.
The final segment of “The Eatonville Anthology,” Segment XIV, recounts a version of the Brer Rabbit tale, when “animals used to talk just like people.” In this version of the story, “dogs and rabbits was the best of friends—even tho’ both of them was stuck on the same gal which was Miss Nancy Coon.” Miss Nancy likes both Mr. Dog and Mr. Rabbit, but she seems to be favoring Mr. Dog who has the sweeter singing voice. Mr. Rabbit cannot sing at all, but promises his friend that he can help him sing even sweeter if Mr. Dog will stick out his tongue. Instead of helping, Mr. Rabbit splits Mr. Dog’s tongue with a knife, and “the dog has been mad at the rabbit ever since.”
Kathleen Wilson (Editor), Short Stories for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 1, Zora Neale Hurston, Published by Gale, 1997.