Retrieving the Voice of the Ancestors: Folktale Narration in Hurston's Mules and Men

Camilla Fascina


As W. E. B. Du Bois maintains, America’s authentic national culture is grounded in its history, popular culture, and the traditions of blacks. This claim is deeply rooted in Du Bois’s belief in the theory of Volkgeist, a conceptual model developed by the German Romantic philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder. The word Volkgeist can be translated as “national soul” and it refers to the Herderian vision of the spiritual life of a nation which is expressed in every aspect of its social and cultural life. For Herder, as for Du Bois, the culture of a nation is revealed not only through the literary writings of scholars and academics ‒ it can also be found in the folklore, tales and songs passed on generation after generation. Just as Du Bois maintained that the black soul was perfectly expressed through spirituals, Zora Neale Hurston similarly believed that black identity was to be found in the tradition of folktales. Hence, Hurston’s quest for black identity in the black tales could be read both as an act of connection to the voice of their ancestors and a search for the roots of black culture itself.


literature; American literature; folktales; Zora Neale Hurston

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