Multi-cultural Voices in Toni Morrison and Zora Neale Hurston.


Christopher Drexel via Flickr

“Multicultural Voices in Toni Morrison and Zora Neale Hurston” was held at the Science Center, presented by Brianne Friel, Ph.D.

Amiela Arcellana, Writer

The Humanities Department hosted the 7th annual Humanities Day at Montgomery College, which integrated the Humanities and Arts with Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. This year’s theme was to offer, “many opportunities to learn across disciplines and to be ‘more prepared for work, life and citizenship.’”

One of the presentations showcased was “Multicultural Voices in Toni Morrison and Zora Neale Hurston.” Held at the Science Center, presented by Brianne Friel, Ph.D.

Being that the presentation was sponsored by the Rockville Department of English and Reading and the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, the organizers offered snacks and cupcakes with English related topics printed on little flags. The audience was also handed printed excerpts from Toni Morrison’s novel A Mercy, as well as Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Professor Brianne Friel started the presentation by asking the audience the many ways they express themselves. She states that there is an, “importance in being heard. There is a human need to express ourselves.”  Friel continues that individuals have multiple voices we use in speaking or writing depending on the situations. Emphasizing that despite this, some voices have been historically silenced and forbidden to speak their own mind. Some of these inequalities have been: forbidding slaves to read or write, making it impossible for women to vote, and the publishing industry being predominantly white and male. Friel further states that women writers like Zora Neale Hurston had to deal with an incredibly sexist industry in order to become published.

In the light of multicultural voices, Professor Friel discusses the importance of writers like Toni Morrison and Zora Neale Hurston in promoting self-expression in women. The presentation included dissecting a few excerpts from these two writers’ works.

Zora Neale Hurston’s work was especially important because she decided to use African American Vernacular English in her writing. Friel notes that using the vernacular was vital because it helped people “gain consciousness and representation that was absent in literature.” Correspondingly, the main reason why her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God was written as a conversation between two women is because to be able to be published, women needed to write in a diary-like format. Friel states that talking and listening is vital in this novel. The usage of African American Vernacular English was even more so important for celebrating and normalizing their culture in literature.

The presentation covered Toni Morrison’s 2008 novel Mercy. Being that Toni Morrison recently passed away, leaving behind her legacy of writing, Friel emphasized on the importance of multicultural voices present in her work. Dissecting some contexts of multicultural voices in her novel Mercy, the reader only knows what Florence—the main character—knows through her speaking about it. Interesting about the novel is that it begins in a first person point of view, slowly transitioning into third person omniscient by the end. Professor Friel states that this is intentional for both the story and the overall message Morrison wishes to convey. Through her work, specifically this novel, Friel notes that Morrison, “is giving the character a voice, an opportunity to those who do not have one.” She further states that reading and writing is given importance through Morrison’s work, concluding that it is, “crucial to express one’s self.”