ABSTRACT:

This essay revisits one of the thorniest issues in Hurston scholarship—the question of whether Hurston and her writings should be considered feminist. I place the debate within contemporary scholarship and address the question via an unpublished and little-known 1947 essay titled “The Lost Keys of Glory.” In this essay—a blend of folklore and analysis of gender roles—Hurston argues that most women are unable to compete with men in the workplace and that feminism has failed women. To address the incongruity between the essay and the way in which Hurston lived her life, I establish the roots of persistent late twentieth- and twenty-first- century perceptions of Hurston as a feminist. I move on to trace the lineage of the folktale Hurston uses to frame this critique of gender relations. Then, drawing from three definitions of feminism, I argue that while on the surface Hurston's essay seems strikingly anti-feminist in the twenty-first century, when read within its original context and within various feminist frameworks, the essay does contain a number of feminist elements, suggesting that to some degree in 1947 Hurston held what we would call today feminist ideals, particularly given the ideological context of the post-World War II re-conversion era.

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