Moses, Man of the Mountain

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Overview

In this 1939 novel based on the familiar story of the Exodus, Zora Neale Hurston blends the Moses of the Old Testament with the Moses of black folklore and song to create a compelling allegory of power, redemption, and faith. Narrated in a mixture of biblical rhetoric, black dialect, and colloquial English, Hurston traces Moses' life from the day he Is launched into the Nile river in a reed basket, to his development as a great magician, to his transformation into the heroic rebel leader, the Great Emancipator. ...

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Overview

In this 1939 novel based on the familiar story of the Exodus, Zora Neale Hurston blends the Moses of the Old Testament with the Moses of black folklore and song to create a compelling allegory of power, redemption, and faith. Narrated in a mixture of biblical rhetoric, black dialect, and colloquial English, Hurston traces Moses' life from the day he Is launched into the Nile river in a reed basket, to his development as a great magician, to his transformation into the heroic rebel leader, the Great Emancipator. From his dramatic confrontations with Pharaoh to his fragile negotiations with the wary Hebrews, this very human story is told with great humor, passion, and psychological insight—the hallmarks of Hurston as a writer and champion of black culture.

Blends the Moses of the Old Testament with Moses of black folklore and song to create a powerful novel of the persecution of slavery and the dream of freedom.

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Editorial Reviews

The New Yorker
“The real thing, warm, humorous, poetic.”
New York Times
“A narrative of great power. Warm with friendly personality and pulsating with...profound eloquence and religious fervor.”
New York Times
A narrative of great power. Warm with friendly personality and pulsating with . . . profound eloquence and religious fervor.
New Yorker
The real thing, warm, humorous, poetic.
New York Times
A narrative of great power. Warm with friendly personality and pulsating with...profound eloquence and religious fervor.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060919948
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/28/1991
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 336
  • Lexile: 830L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston, the author of Their Eyes Were Watching God, was deemed "one of the greatest writers of our time" by Toni Morrison. With the publication of Lies and Other Tall Tales, The Skull Talks Back, and What's the Hurry, Fox? new generations will be introduced to Hurston's legacy. She was born in Notasulga, Alabama, in 1891, and died in 1960.

Biography

During the 1920s, African-American culture in the United States received an exhilarating shot in the arm in the era known as the Harlem Renaissance. For the first time, black American art, music, and literature was being taken seriously among the intelligentsia as a significant force in contemporary culture. At the front of that movement were several writers, including Zora Neale Hurston.

Hurston's work reflected the liberation and experimentation of post-war America. She published stories and co-founded the groundbreaking journal Fire! with poet Langston Hughes and novelist Wallace Thurman. By the ‘30s, Hurston was a bestselling writer, but with the Renaissance on the wane and a new era of politics, economic depression, and the "social realism" movement, Hurston's once glorious literary career was running into dire straits. She would end her life destitute, practically forgotten, buried in an unmarked grave in Florida. However, a resurgence of interest in her work during the 1970s and the tireless work of writer Alice Walker would help reestablish Hurston in her rightful place as one of America's greatest and most influential writers.

Born in Eatonville, Florida, in 1891 to a father who was a Baptist preacher, Hurston was well-versed from birth in the dynamics of the Southern black experience. She brought that keen vision to her writing and published her first story in the Howard University literary magazine while attending the school in 1921. Still, it was not until Hurston moved to New York City in 1925 that she really began to make waves on the literary scene. Her writing was characterized by its unflagging honesty and strength, qualities that Hurston herself exuded. She often ruffled feathers by refusing to adhere to the constricting gender conventions prevalent at the time. This strength and self-confidence was already apparent in the writer's very first works. Her debut novel Jonah's Gourde Vine was praised by The New York Times as "the most vital and original novel about the American Negro that has yet been written by a member of the Negro race." Her second was a bona fide classic, Mules and Men, a compendium of African American folk tales, songs, and maxims that drew on Hurston's extensive studies in Anthropology.

By the time Hurston published her signature work Their Eyes Were Watching God, the freestyle experimentalism of the Harlem Renaissance was being increasingly overcast by the Great Depression. As a result, a backlash ensued. Their Eyes Were Watching God, which told of a woman named Janie Crawford who goes through three marriages to separate men as she struggles to realize herself, was too steeped in the experimentalism of the Renaissance to please critics. Furthermore, her portrayal of a black woman's search for personal liberation was too much for many black men to stomach. Richard Wright, the acclaimed author of Native Son, even dismissed Their Eyes Were Watching God for not being "serious fiction." Today, such criticism may seem absurd, or at the very least, incredibly short-sighted, but at the time, Hurston's daring prose was not in vogue amongst the social realists.

Their Eyes Were Watching God, instead, displays a true structural adventurousness, splitting between the eloquence of the narrative voice and the idiomatic, ungrammatical dialogue of the black, southern characters. While works of the social realism movement were easily categorized by their left-wing politics and gritty delivery, Their Eyes Were Watching God was less simple to pigeonhole. It is at once a product of the Harlem Renaissance, an example of Southern literature along the lines of Faulkner, and a work of feminist literature. Consequently, the novel was criticized for being out of step with the times, and it went out of print very shortly after being published, leading to the collapse of Hurston's career and her standing as a significant literary figure.

Hurston would die in 1960, back in Florida, destitute, forgotten. Her books long unavailable, her death barely registered. She would not return to the public eye until 1975, when Alice Walker published an essay titled "In Search of Zora Neale Hurston" in Ms. magazine. Along with other writer including Robert Hemenway and Tony Cade Bambara, Walker went on a crusade to revitalize Hurston's career fifteen years after the writer's death.

When Their Eyes Were Watching God was finally republished, it was reevaluated as a classic. Today, the novel is required reading in universities all over the country, and Hurston is widely acknowledged as one of the first great African-American women writers. As a final tribute to her idol, Walker also traveled to Florida where Hurston is buried and placed a marker on her grave, a long-overdue tribute to a great American writer reading with beautiful simplicity: "Zora Neale Hurston: Genius of the South."

Good To Know

Hurston's earliest work was a comedic play called Mule Bone, which she co-wrote with Langston Hughes. However, the play would not be performed until 1991 due to an arduous legal battle that also brought an untimely end to the friendship between Hurston and Hughes.

Spike Lee's audacious debut film She's Gotta Have It has been viewed by some as a hip adaptation of Their Eyes Were Watching God, and the fact that the film opens with a quotation from Zora Neale Hurston may prove such theories correct.

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    1. Date of Birth:
      January 7, 1891
    2. Place of Birth:
      Eatonville, Florida
    1. Date of Death:
      January 28, 1960
    2. Place of Death:
      Fort Pierce, Florida
    1. Education:
      B.A., Barnard College, 1928 (the school's first black graduate). Went on to study anthropology at Columbia University.

Read an Excerpt

Moses, Man of the Mountain

Chapter One


Have mercy! Lord, have mercy on my poor soul!" Women gave birth and whispered cries like this in caves and out-of-the-way places that humans didn't usually use for birthplaces. Moses hadn't come yet, and these were the years when Israel first made tears. Pharaoh had entered the bedrooms of Israel. The birthing beds of Hebrews were matters of state. The Hebrew womb had fallen under the heel of Pharaoh. A ruler great in his newness and new in his greatness had arisen in Egypt and he had said, "This is law. Hebrew boys shall not be born. All offenders against this law shall suffer death by drowning."

So women in the pains of labor hid in caves and rocks. They must cry, but they could not cry out loud. They pressed their teeth together. A night might force upon them a thousand years of feelings. Men learned to beat upon their breasts with clenched fists and breathe out their agony without sound. A great force of suffering accumulated between the basement of heaven and the roof of hell. The shadow of Pharaoh squatted in the dark corners of every birthing place in Goshen. Hebrew women shuddered with terror at the indifference of their wombs to the Egyptian law.

The province of Goshen was living under the New Egypt and the New Egyptian and they were made to know it in many ways. The sign of the new order towered over places of preference. It shadowed over work, and fear was given body and wings.

The Hebrews had already been driven out of their well-built homes and shoved further back in Goshen. Then came more decrees:

  1. Israel, you are slaves from now on.Pharaoh assumes no responsibility for the fact that some of you got old before he came to power. Old as well as young must work in his brickyards and road camps.

    1. No sleeping after dawn. Fifty lashes for being late to work.
    2. Fifty lashes for working slow.
    3. One hundred lashes for being absent.
    4. One hundred lashes for sassing the bossman.
    5. Death for hitting a foreman.

  2. Babies take notice: Positively no more boy babies allowed among Hebrews. Infants defying this law shall be drowned in the Nile.


Hebrews were disarmed and prevented from becoming citizens of Egypt, they found out that they were aliens, and from one new decree to the next they sank lower and lower. So they had no comfort left but to beat their breasts to crush the agony inside. Israel had learned to weep.


Chapter Two


The sun was setting. Under the brilliant, cloudless Egyptian sun thousands of Hebrew workers were struggling with building stones. Some of their backs were bloody from the lash; many of them were stoopy from age and all of them were sweaty and bent and tired from work. The Egyptian foreman gazed at the drooping sun in awe and breathed with reverence: "Ah, Horus, golden god! Lord of both horizons. The weaver of the beginning of things!"

Amram, struggling with the help of another man to move a heavy stone into place in the foundation, heard him and looked up.

"Horus may be all those good things to the Egyptians, brother, but that sun-god is just something to fry our backs."

"I heard him what he said," the other worker whispered back. "If Horus is the weaver of the beginning of things, he's done put some mighty strange threads in his loom."

"And still and all I used to admire him too, before this new government come in, didn't you?"

"Uhuh. I used to admire everything in Egypt. But the palms and the plains ain't scenery to me no more. They just look like suffering to me now."

"They look that way to me too, now," Amram whispered back, "and the worst part about it is, my wife is going to have another baby."

"I heard about it, Amram. What you going to do? Take her off in the wilderness like I did mine?"

"Don't know exactly, Caleb. One man was telling me he hid his wife out in a boat until it was all over. Turned out to be a girl so it was all right."

"How soon you expecting?"

"Of course you can't never be sure exactly, but we figure in two or three days more. I'm planning on hunting up some good cave or some place like that the secret police don't know about yet. Thought I'd take tonight to locate a place. Will you go along with me?"

"Sure I will. You got the midwife engaged?"

"Yes, that's all fixed up. Going to send my boy Aaron and my girl Miriam along to help around generally. They can do little things around and watch out for spies. Old Puah, the midwife, knows her business all right and she's just as loyal as she can be, but she's getting kind of old, you know. "

"That's right. It's good you got a sizeable boy and girl to run errands and to stand watch. It's liable to happen while we are at work, you know."

"Oh, yes, and that's how come I want to find a place and get it sort of fixed up with a quilt or two for my wife to rest on and some water and things like that so when the time comes I won't need to worry. It's a sin and a shame our wives can't even have a baby in peace."

"And that's just the reason I want to go with that delegation to see old Pharaoh tonight. You know a bunch of us are going tonight to see him to protest these new decrees, don't you?"

"Sure, but I don't believe it'll do a bit of good. Still and all I want to go just to see what he's going to say this time.

Moses, Man of the Mountain. Copyright © by Zora Hurston. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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