'How It Feels to Be Colored Me' by Zora Neale Hurston is characterized as both a letter of introduction and a personal declaration of independence. Colorful words, careful details, and precise dictation employed in this short story appeal to both white and black readers in a clever way. This adventurous short story explores African-American culture candidly.
Throughout the short story, Houston puts several literary elements into use to evaluate the effects of slavery on her life and demonstrates that she does not accept the self-pitying role of a victim. She deftly articulates an evolving disclosure on cultural exchanges between black and white in this short story. In essence, 'How It Feels to Be Colored Me' reveals two literary criticisms:
Broadly speaking, historical criticism seeks answers to ‘authorial intent’ (what the author thinks and what he/she writes). It tries to understand the meaning of the text in its original context analyzing the social and historical contexts. On the other hand, the Formalist approach to literature focuses on the elements of form such as imagery, structure, style, tone, etc. seeking meaning out of them. It approaches a text with an eye for structural purposes of a particular text.
Notably, Hurston’s views on slavery, her insight into the uniqueness, how she feels and doesn’t feel her color throughout the story, the themes that she chooses, her word choice, her tone, the imagery that she puts into use, and the powerful message that she delivers connect her short story to the literary criticism.
Essentially, there are many showpieces in the short story to support that both historical criticism and formalist criticism are revealed. In the paragraph 7, there are traces of historical criticism. For instance, the lines “Someone is always at my elbow reminding me that I am the granddaughter of slaves. It fails to register depression with me. Slavery is sixty years in the past” shows how the text embodies a history of its time and verifies the historical authenticity by analyzing the past events.
Speaking of formalist criticism, several examples (metaphors) like “The operation was successful, and the patient is doing well”, “I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife”, and “This orchestra grows rambunctious, rears on its hind legs and attacks the tonal veil with primitive fury, rending it, clawing it until it breaks through to the jungle beyond” focus on literariness making this short story different from the other types of writing.
In conclusion, it can be stated that 'How It Feels to Be Colored Me' masterfully pictures the facts about Hurston’s life, the social and historical circumstances of that time, the context in which the short story is written, and the other related issues. (Historical criticism). Further, the formal features of the text including style, imagery, figures of speech, tone, and structure (Formalist criticism) are paid special attention in this short story without taking any outside influence into account. Thus, both the given literary approaches determine the value of 'How It Feels to Be Colored Me' and cast light on the intentions of Zora Neale Hurston effectively.