Many of the fourteen profiles in “The Eatonville Anthology” open with a statement on the outstanding quality of the character they feature. This statement typically defines the character’s social status in the community. Whenever this introduction focuses on a negative quality, the narrator defends the character’s negative trait with a modification or explanation. With this strategy the narrator signals acceptance of each individual and describes the response of the community. In general, the people of the town are amused and entertained by the eccentric characters being described.
The vignettes in Hurston’s “The Eatonville Anthology” collectively reflect the powerful sense of community found in areas where certain cultural groups fight for existence within a larger dominant culture. The African-American, Latin-American, and Asian-American cultures are examples of the many cultural systems that subsist within the dominant Anglo-European culture of the United States. Often the need for community is emphasized by both the culture itself and the individual’s need to develop a sense of safety and self-identity. Community is more than a shared genetic code in “Anthology”; it is a bond among people who share common life experiences. The people in Eatonville draw together because they acknowledge shared experiences, and they preserve those experiences through stories. By doing so, the community is assured of its continuity, and members of the village are assured a sense of safety and belonging. Preservation of their community is especially important because it exists within the context of a larger dominant culture.
Preservation of Culture
Storytelling guarantees that a social system endures. A community and its people can be remembered and its customs preserved through the telling of stories. The individual stories in “The Eatonville Anthology” demonstrate how the citizens of a small, rural community are connected in spirit and culture. As a whole, the stories present a coherent picture of the lives, language, and social structure of Eatonville in the early 1920s.
The Art of Storytelling
Storytelling is an integral part of community life in Hurston’s Eatonville. Literary scholars and critics alike have come to understand that not only is the act of telling a story an art, but it is also an inherent part of the modern African-American tradition. The oral tradition of storytelling usually reflects the lack of a system of concrete signs for the spoken word. Sometimes the language itself does not have an alphabet or other concrete images for communication; at other times, the people using the language do not have access to these symbols. In the case of African-American slaves, most never learned to write. Thus, their initial decades in the United States were recorded and preserved largely through oral traditions.
The term “storytelling” also refers to exaggerations or outright lies that are told to emphasize a point. Several of the stories in “The Eatonville Anthology” play with the other implied meanings of the word “storytelling.” By providing examples of local myths and exaggerated tales, the “stories” of “Anthology” capture the people and character of the town. The woman who begs for food when she is able to afford it, the thieving dog Tippy, and the tall-tale about the old man and his first encounter with a train are all examples of tales and personalities that have been embellished by the local townspeople.
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.