Erskine Caldwell, Zora Neale Hurston and Life’s Lower Elements in the South of the United States: Celebrating Region and Race!
Dr. Borni Mahmoud Lafi
Erskine Caldwell and Zora Neale Hurston are two southern authors who wrote about the American South and its people. They wrote mainly about life’s lower elements or about the poor and the downtrodden of both races in the region. The present paper examines how these life’s lower elements allowed Caldwell and Hurston to explore and develop a rich artistic tradition structured around celebrating what was deemed unworthy of literary representation and critical scrutiny. Caldwell and Hurston failed, it seemed, to satisfy the literary politics of the 1930s depressions years and of the Southern and the Harlem Renaissance. Such failure was caused in Caldwell’s case by a shift in critical perspectives which was marked by the end of the Proletarian or Marxist veneer in American Literature and by the emergence and establishment of New Criticism as a major critical strategy in literary study and analysis. As for Hurston’s failure it was caused, as this paper argues, by a shift of interest- her own shift of interest. She gradually distanced herself from the Harlem Renaissance or the New Negro Movement through focusing on intra-racial conflicts instead of on interracial ones. Both Caldwell and Hurston were accused, as a consequence, of betrayal and of selling out region and race. This paper argues that instead of betrayal and of selling out region and race, what Erskine Caldwell and Zora Neale Hurston actually did was claiming or celebrating the South and its people through refiguring and foregrounding what the Southern Renaissance and the Harlem or New Negro Movement sought to exclude and marginalize.
Full Text: PDF