27 March 2012

Moses, Man of the Mountain, by Zora Neale Hurston

I continue to lovingly work my way through Zora Neale Hurston's works. This is certainly not one of her best, sad to say, but it's interesting nonetheless. A retelling of the Moses story (incidentally, published in1939, same year as Moses and Monotheism) with clear references to the African American experience, giving it a somewhat complicated politics. Obviously, Pharaoh and the Egyptians are still evil, but there's a strong emphasis too on the Chosen People basically acting like ungrateful jerks. Moses, the hoodoo master, is a harried and unwilling hero. Most of the people around him are greedy, self-absorbed, and openly uninterested in freedom. He must mold this unmanageable mess into a nation* and they will resist throughout. I guess this is probably in the Bible version too? I mean, I know the Golden Calf is and stuff, I guess I'd just never really thought about Moses having so much trouble with his followers. But it's a pretty shocking implication as political allegory, when you think about it.

This is one of the reasons I find Hurston so interesting. She's intensely problematic, politically speaking. This is especially noticeable when you consider her portrayal of women. The intro to this book stresses the way in which she emphasizes the oppression of women, which is true enough, but she also emphasizes how women distract men and prevent them from achieving greatness, and are shameless gossips who love shiny things. Seriously. I think Zora Neale Hurston might have despised women. She definitely seems to see them as simultaneously powerful and helpless, needing a man to set them straight, but usually incapable of realizing how much they need him (this isn't as noticeable in this book as it is in Seraph on the Suwanee which I loved, but it's there).

The best reason to read her stuff is still her gorgeous, gorgeous prose. This book too has moments of incredible beauty, but I also found that dialect a wee bit grating at times (which is weird, I normally don't at all). I kept hearing it in this cartoonish, aw shucks voice in my head ("well gee pharaoh, I reckon that Moses is a goner for sure!") and it was just made it all seem ridiculous.

*Amusingly enough, I am currently also about halfway through a biography of Daniel O'Connell, which is basically about the same problem.

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