Rethinking King Cotton: George W. Lee, Zora Neale Hurston, and Global/Local Revisions of the South and the Nation

UNCP Author/Contributor (non-UNCP co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Dr. Scott Hicks, Associate Professor (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Pembroke (UNCP )
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Abstract: In the 1930s and 1940s, Zora Neale Hurston and George W. Lee tell compelling and competing stories of the "Negro" in agriculture. To be sure, each narrates "impressive achievements" as well as "great misery and need." Lee's River George (1937) describes the record-setting cotton crop that protagonist Aaron George produces when he returns to his late father's shares, for example, while Hurston's novels and stories present black communities that, despite the racist and classist pogrom of early twentieth-century agriculture, affirm and sustain its members. At the same time, each narrates "great misery and need": River George ends in Aaron's graphic lynching, while Hurston's work tends toward wholesale African American rejection of American agriculture: as she asks in Dust Tracks on a Road (1942), "Why must I chop cotton at all?" (345). What's more, their works defy the relegation of "the status of the Negro farmer" within a regional or national circuit, for they contest American agriculture as solely national or local and instead acknowledge its global dimensions. While Aaron does not recognize that he is victim of the plantation, a transnational system far greater than he and fundamental in refusing him agency or equity, Hurston's works embrace global consciousness, repudiating emplacement in and fealty to a world order that denies her characters autonomy and equity.

Additional Information

Arizona Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Culture, and Theory 2009 Winter; 65 (4): 63-91
Language: English
Date: 2009
African American experience, Cotton trade , Globalization , Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960), Dust Tracks on a Road (1942), George W. Lee

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