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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... Returning South: 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 sim - ilarities, particularly in the ways in which their narrator-reporters not only represent their subjects and their surroundings but interact and per- form with them. These remarkable performances dramatize the concep- tual 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, egalitar- ian, and collaborative, and hence able to adapt in response to both inter- nal divisions and external inu fl ences, 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 con- sciousness. If Hurston’s text reads like a celebration and a ree fl ction of a living, dynamic community triumphing over circumstances, Agee’s reads like an individual lamentation for a disappearing community whose 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 © 2008 the Southern Literary Journal and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Department of English.
ISSN
1534-1461

Abstract

Returning South: 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 sim - ilarities, particularly in the ways in which their narrator-reporters not only represent their subjects and their surroundings but interact and per- form with them. These remarkable performances dramatize the concep- tual 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, egalitar- ian, and collaborative, and hence able to adapt in response to both inter- nal divisions and external inu fl ences, 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 con- sciousness. If Hurston’s text reads like a celebration and a ree fl ction of a living, dynamic community triumphing over circumstances, Agee’s reads like an individual lamentation for a disappearing community whose

Journal

The Southern Literary JournalUniversity of North Carolina Press

Published: May 21, 2009

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