Community is an important concern in both black and women's literature. The racist and patriarchal nature of American society, what Morrison refers to as the master narrative of our culture, places blacks and women and especially black women in a position of powerlessness and vulnerability. Communities serve as a protective buffer within which black women must function in order to survive. However both Hurston and Morrison identify and criticize how the patriarchal nature of the master narrative is present in black communities. The male-female hierarchy in the black community mirrors not only the patriarchy of the dominant white culture, but also the white-black hierarchy. In Hurston's novel, Janie's grandmother identifies this hierarchy, telling Janie that
de white man throw down de load and tell de nigger man tuh pick it up. He pick it up because he have to, but he don't tote it. He hand it to de womenfolks. De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see (14).
Nel confronts Sula with this same structure in their final conversation: "You a woman and a colored woman at that. You can't act like a man" (142). Through the characters of Janie and Sula, Hurston and Morrison challenge these hierarchies and the sharp dichotomies they draw. These two women interact with the community and its values in such a way as to redefine the conversation. Their communities both foil and support their self-assertion. In the two novels, communities function as both contextual elements and as partners in the dialogue by which the protagonists become themselves.
In both novels, the community provides a context for the story and a dwelling-...
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Interpretations: Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987.
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Osofsky, Gilbert, ed. Puttin' On the Ole Massa. New York: Harper & Row, 1969. 17-23.
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