Over time, numerous civilizations developed their history and literature closely together. Therefore determining which one imitates the other is difficult to do. In order to confirm the answer, research may be conducted by targeting a specific timeline. During the early 1900s, a war broke out known as World War I. The United States fell into a period of isolationism and disillusionment. The disillusionment was surprisingly liberating, it helped transform habits and forms of tradition. Soon, artists, musicians, and writers began experimenting with a new form of writing called modernism. (Elements of Literature, Pg 747) After analyzing events during the Modern Era, the author’s background, themes of novels, and popular literary devices, it is evident that literature precipitated a change in history during the Modern Era.
Events during the Moderns brought an adjustment in American attitudes on experimentation and innovation. During the 1920s a movement named the Harlem Renaissance created a monumental change. The Harlem Renaissance drew a new appreciation of the role of black talent in American culture (Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, James Weldon, and Countee Cullen.) (Elements of Literature, Pg 749) It was a critical movement in African American cultural history. It helped them obtain authority over the portrayal of black history and life. Along with the Harlem Renaissance came the age of the flapper. The use of the flapper look began on October 29, 1929. Flappers of the 1920s were young women who were executing an outrageous lifestyle thought by many at the time as unladylike. They were considered the first generation of individualistic American women. (A&E Television Networks) Multiple events occurred where people began to speak up and present their ideas assertively but this could not be done without the help of artists during the time.
One of the many artists includes Zora Neale Hurston. Hurston was a woman who made it to the top of the African American literary society. Prior to the Harlem Renaissance, African Americans lived in rural communities. Hurston moved with her family when she was still a toddler to Eatonville, Florida. Her books reveal no reminiscence of her Alabama origins. She was one of the few authors who stepped away from portraying the lives of poor, unschooled Southern African Americans. One of Huston’s most commonly known work is, “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” Hurston wrote “Their Eyes Were Watching God” in seven weeks while she was travelling in Haiti in 1937. It was one of the few novels centred around a woman speaking for herself and achieving and understanding her own life. “Here was peace. She pulled in her horizon like a great fish-net.” (Hurston Page 193) The book was harshly criticized by male leaders in the Harlem Renaissance because of its focus on female self-dependence. It was even seen as a “minstrel technique.” Hurston opened a new possibility for women of the future through her work, despite the criticism she received it was a work that influenced the future.
The theme and characters presented in “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” proposed a revolutionary era for minorities. Hurston’s protagonist Janie, is a young adult attempting to stray from societies and her grandmothers restricted view of women. During her journey for self-dependence, Janie runs into obstacles that others place upon her. She does not see the same values and priorities others would like her to focus on. Hurston later presents the idea that it is okay to be independent and live outspokenly, their lives are not revolved around others. Hurston said, “She knew now that marriage did not make love. Janie’s first dream was dead, so she became a woman.” (Hurston Page 25) By including this in her book Hurston supports the age of the flapper while not necessarily imitating it. Although many criticized her along with women who partook in the flapper look, she urged them to continue to fight for their independence. The immediate change did not occur but progression was occurring. For example, in 1963 the Equal Pay Act was passed by Congress, ensuring equal pay for the same work, without discrimination of race, sex, religion, etc. Hurston worked hard to continue the progression of women independence because of her passions.
The literature of this time period was often moving and personal but it also reflected the miserable mood that arose after World War I. Modern authors often discussed the inner human mind. Authors of the Harlem Renaissance heavily focused on transforming habits and creating a new way of life by inspiring others. Unlike Romanticist, Modernist did not look to nature, emotion, or the events of history. (Course Hero) Like most artists, Hurston was not focused on writing about the past instead she wanted to shape the future by incorporating ideas of history. Hurston attended Barnard College to study anthropology. Anthropology is the study of human societies and cultures and their development. “Anthropological study and training provide the knowledge, skills, and tools to work with people, study the past, and shape the future.”(Thomas, Advance Your Career) ) Her passion for anthropology pushed her into creating a new tomorrow. “That hour began my wanderings,” she later wrote. “Not so much in geography, but in time. Then not so much in time as in spirit.”(New Dynamic, About) Overall, authors of the Modern Era concentrated primarily on influencing not retelling.
Many may argue that literature imitates history. This is due to the chronological order of historical events to publishing dates. For example, Hurston did not publish her novel until 1937 but the flapper era began in the 1920s. Though this may have influenced the novel’s target and plot, Hurston took a different approach. Instead of imitating how women protested male-dependency she created a story where her main character found herself by continuing her self-dependency. By creating this plot, she was capable of motivating females to continue fighting for independence. Her novel was able to provide new possibilities and a new perspective, she helped women feel comfortable with rebelling. Literature may be influenced by history but it is not history’s imitation
By analyzing major events, Zora Neale Hurston’s background, her impactful novel, and popular literary devices during the moderns, it is indisputable that history imitates literature due to its influence. History can inspire a novel and the author may reflect some pieces of history in their work but it is literature that shapes our perspective of tomorrow. Literature allows room for interpretation, meaning that it could be “imitated” easily. Our tomorrow is determined by what we read, learn, and adventure about every day. Tomorrow is simply our past waiting to be made. Authors of the Modern Era helped create change for years to come. If they would have imitated the work of history, multiple novels from this time period would have been utterly sorrowful, considering the United States had just come out of World War I. On the other hand, the works of this time period were often inspiring to people living in the United States. By creating alternatives, different paths can be taken. These different paths are made by literary works. It is up to the human to decide his/her path, literature simply gives them possibilities.
- A&E Television Networks. “Zora Neale Hurston.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 16 Apr. 2019, www.biography.com/writer/zora-neale-hurston.
- CrickettNFatBoy, Course Hero. “Literary Trends and Themes Modernism The Literary Movement Called Modernism.” Literary Trends and Themes Modernism The Literary Movement Called Modernism, 2019, www.coursehero.com/file/p5igttv/Literary-Trends-and-Themes-Modernism-The-literary-movement-called-Modernism/.
- Editors, History.com. “Flappers.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 6 Mar. 2018, www.history.com/topics/roaring-twenties/flappers.
- Elements of Literature. Fifth Course. Ed. Kylene Beers, et al. Austin:Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2009. 747-750
- Giles, James R., and Morris Dickstein. “American Literature.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 5 Dec. 2018, www.britannica.com/art/American-literature/Fiction.
- Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006. Print.
- New Dynamic. “About Zora Neale Hurston.” Zora Neale Hurston, 2019, www.zoranealehurston.com/about/.
- Thomas, Deborah. “What Do Anthropologists Do?” What Do Anthropologists Do? – Advance Your Career, 2019, www.americananthro.org/AdvanceYourCareer/Content.aspx?ItemNumber=2148.