One month away.
My intro to this book came in the earlier study group, Intro to Zora Neale Hurston, and the synopsis of the first four chapters is here.
When we discussed Their Eyes Were Watching God in the Fall group, we followed the action chapter by chapter and discussed each in the first meeting, then, in the 2nd meeting, we discussed themes, overarching and connecting themes throughout the narrative.
We have these two dimensions for discussing Moses, Man of the Mountain, plus a couple others. We know that Hurston’s narrative is a “reworking” or a “reimagining” of the original Old Testament Biblical story, told from Hurston’s very unique perspective of southern folklore and her anthropological study of the African diaspora in the American South and the Caribbean. So that gives us additional data points, perhaps. There may also be places (spoiler alert!) where Hurston’s story emphasizes and/or departs from the original narrative and how those connections affect the overall story. There is also the division in both versions of the story between the Exodus out of Egypt and the time spent in the Wilderness that may warrant discussion.
So as we read through, we’ll ask ourselves the following questions: how does Zora’s narrative unwind? Do the two stories follow a similar sequence as we would expect or are there surprises along the way? Does the Hurston version enlighten us in ways we hadn’t anticipated? Or, does the Hurston version fall short? And if there is time left, we may want to examine present day analogies to this 1939 story and its Old Testament antecedents.
One final set of questions for the first round. At the end of chapter 10, the narrator uses the term “crossed over” 13 times, leading us to believe it was a historical if not a climactic event. There is no such “crossing over” in the life of the Biblical Moses. So it might bear further discussion. Additionally, the same year (1939) that Hurston published Moses, Man of the Mountain (based loosely on her 1934 short story, The Fire and the Cloud), Sigmund Freud published his final and epic work, Moses and Monotheism (Full text available at Internet Archive, summary here). Moses and Monotheism suggests that Aton, a single god created by the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaton, was also the god of Moses via his connection to the Egyptian royal family. According to Freud, Akhenaton ushered in a “cross over” during his reign, from a plurality of gods to one god, Aton, that was ultimately unsuccessful, the people reverting back to polytheism upon Akhenaton’s death.
And who is Moses? The biblical Moses is himself Hebrew. Is Hurston’s Moses Hebrew or Egyptian? Or does it matter? Is Moses a man sent from God, or a master hoodoo man with a bag of unexplicable tricks through which he manages to astound Pharaoh and his court magicians? And does it matter? And how much is Moses a self-made man, how much a man with a spiritual destiny?
More later. I promise.
Additional readings (not required)
Zeppenfeld, Julia. 2018. Zora Neale Hurston’s Moses, Man of the Mountain. AAA: Arbeiten aus Anglistik und Amerikanistik, Vol. 43, No. 1, pp. 45-62. Available online at JSTOR.
Boyd, Valerie. 2003. Wrapped In Rainbows. Scribner: New York. pp. 329-336.
Hurston, Zora Neale.1996. The Complete Stories: The Fire and the Cloud. Harper Collins: New York. pp. 227-121. Also found in West, Genevieve, editor. 2020. Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick. Harper Collins: London. pp. 229-232.
Hemenway, Robert. 1978. Zora Neale Hurston: A Literary Biography. University of Illinois Press: Urbana. pp. 256-271.
Plant, Deborah. 2007. Zora Neale Hurston: A Biography of the Spirit. Praeger: Westport, CT. pp 125-131