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Returning South: Reading Culture in James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and Zora Neale Hurston’s Mules and Men

Returning South: Reading Culture in James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and Zora Neale... : Reading Culture in James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and Zora Neale Hurston's Mules and Men by David T. Humphries Despite the obvious differences between Zora Neale Hurston's Mules and Men (1935) and James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941), these two ethnographic texts share important and striking similarities, particularly in the ways in which their narrator-reporters not only represent their subjects and their surroundings but interact and perform with them. These remarkable performances dramatize the conceptual challenges both authors faced in reading and representing culture in light of their own goals and existing sets of expectations and conventions. Hurston's text presents a model of culture that is participatory, egalitarian, and collaborative, and hence able to adapt in response to both internal divisions and external influences, while Agee's text suggests a model of culture in which hierarchical categories can never be fully erased and interpretation remains an intensely personal process of individual consciousness. If Hurston's text reads like a celebration and a reflection of a living, dynamic community triumphing over circumstances, Agee's reads like an individual lamentation for a disappearing community whose most visible artifacts are the by-products of brute survival in a http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png The Southern Literary Journal University of North Carolina Press

Returning South: Reading Culture in James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and Zora Neale Hurston’s Mules and Men

The Southern Literary Journal , Volume 41 (2) – May 21, 2009

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Publisher
University of North Carolina Press
Copyright
Copyright © University of North Carolina Press
ISSN
1534-1461
Publisher site
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Abstract

: Reading Culture in James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and Zora Neale Hurston's Mules and Men by David T. Humphries Despite the obvious differences between Zora Neale Hurston's Mules and Men (1935) and James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941), these two ethnographic texts share important and striking similarities, particularly in the ways in which their narrator-reporters not only represent their subjects and their surroundings but interact and perform with them. These remarkable performances dramatize the conceptual challenges both authors faced in reading and representing culture in light of their own goals and existing sets of expectations and conventions. Hurston's text presents a model of culture that is participatory, egalitarian, and collaborative, and hence able to adapt in response to both internal divisions and external influences, while Agee's text suggests a model of culture in which hierarchical categories can never be fully erased and interpretation remains an intensely personal process of individual consciousness. If Hurston's text reads like a celebration and a reflection of a living, dynamic community triumphing over circumstances, Agee's reads like an individual lamentation for a disappearing community whose most visible artifacts are the by-products of brute survival in a

Journal

The Southern Literary JournalUniversity of North Carolina Press

Published: May 21, 2009

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