Class, Work, and New Races: Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God and Agnes Smedley’s Daughter of Earth

  • William Dow
Part of the American Literature Readings in the 21st Century book series (ALTC)


Meridel Le Sueur’s principal attention in Salute to Spring and in her literary journalism is on the everyday, blended into distinctive attitudes or forms of consciousness. For Le Sueur the experiences of the everyday, particularly those of the American underclass and workers in the 1930s, can offer a form of resistance to dominant political strategies of power. Metaphors of the everyday in Le Sueur’s fiction and literary journalism predominantly involve women—her representative markers and victims of daily existence. Women are symbolic of dulling domestic repetitions, the targets of violence, abuse, neglect—the figures who most strongly convey the life-destroying routines of capitalism. But in Le Sueur, women as laborers (and all are in some form) resist the polarization of the “feminine” repetitive everyday to the “masculine” rupture and revolution—one of Le Sueur’s ways of taking to task “proletarian works” that elide the experience of women workers by demoting their work and refusing to recognize it as “wage labor.” Le Sueur, as we’ve seen, constantly brings to the reader’s mind the relations of work to mobility versus the insufficiency of the middle-class imaginary to interpret such mobility. Paralleling in their texts many of Le Sueur’s concerns, Agnes Smedley and Zora Neale Hurston give work a new representative twist and, in so doing, provide us with exemplary models for articulating the relations of gender to class.


Birth Control Woman Writer Mining Camp Frame Narrative Blue Jean 
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  1. 3.
    For recent approaches to the relation of work and American culture and literature, see Nicholas K. Bromwell, By the Sweat of the Brow: Literature and Labor in Antebellum America ( Chicago and London: The Univ. of Chicago Press, 1993 );Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    David Sprague Herreshoff, Labor into Art: The Theme of Work in Nineteenth-Century American Literature ( Detroit, MI: Wayne State UP, 1991 );Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Michele Birnbaum, Race, Work, and Desire in American Literature ( Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003 );Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    and Cindy Weinstein, The Literature of Labor and the Labors of Literature in Nineteenth-Century American Fiction (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1995 ). This chapter is indebted to these studies.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 11.
    See William Stott, Documentary Expression and Thirties America ( Chicago and London: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1986 ), 5–25.Google Scholar

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© William Dow 2009

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  • William Dow

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