‘Magnolia Flower’ by Zora Neale Hurston

Magnolia Flower by Zora Neale Hurston, 1925

The magic trick:

Giving the story both a wider scope and a timeless quality by putting it in the narrative voice of a river teaching a brook about history

This is the story of a father who doesn’t want his daughter to marry the man she wants to marry. The kicker is this: the story is told by a mighty river to a little brook. By putting this singular tale of domestic strife into the words of timeless mother nature, the scope widens immeasurably. Now, Magnolia Flower’s strength and courage take their place among a larger narrative of African-American history. The river hints at this early in tale, mentioning those slaves who didn’t weep but who took action. This isn’t only Magnolia Flower’s story but instead an entire history across generations.

And that’s quite a trick on Hurston’s part.

The selection:

“Long ago, as men count years, men who were pale of skin held a dark race of men in bondage. The dark ones cried out in sorrow and travail, – not here in my country, but farther north. Many rivers carried their tears to the sea and the tide would bring some of them to me. The Wind brought cries without end.

“But there were some among the slaves who did not weep, but fled in the night to safety, – some to the far north, some to the far south, for here the red man, the panther, and the bear were alone to be feared.

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