Fiction of the 1920’s and 1930’s Guide Questions
Jean Toomer: "Blood-Burning Moon"
1. Who is to blame for the violence in this story--including the fight that starts the racial conflict? How are your sympathies managed in the story? What are your reactions to the themes of potential miscegenation, lynching, racial tensions?
2. Consider the story's structure. Are their elements that seem contrived or overly dependent on coincidence?
3. Discuss the significance of the physical scene in Blood-Burning Moon. How does the landscape have an effect on the characters? To what extent does the Southern locale determine the action of the plot?
4. How different would the story be in another setting, say, in the slums of the industrial North?
5. Comment more fully on the regional and ethnic qualities of the story. Is it limited by these? Does it transcend these? What seems to be the story's focus?
6. How does the three-part structure of Blood-Burning Moon relate to the three figures in the “love triangle”?
7. Comment on the symbolism in Blood-Burning Moon. The moon seems to be the central symbol, but note also the significant references to burning, glowing, etc.
8. What is the significance of the fact that both men die in the story? Is Toomer suggesting inevitable total destruction following racial conflict?
9. Are the primary motivations in Blood-Burning Moon racial? Does the story suggest that sexual desire or love is more fundamental to human actions than racial differences and racial antagonism?
10. What effect do the short poems that conclude each section have on the story as a whole?
11. How are Bob Stone and Tom Burwell alike? How are they fundamentally different?
12. Is Louisa a fully realized character? Does she function primarily as an individual or as a catalyst to bring Tom and Bob together?
Zora Neale Hurston: "The Gilded Six-Bits"
1. How does Hurston symbolize various stages in Missy May's life and her relationship with Joe. (Consider "gilded" vs. "gold" images, other symbols.)
2. How can this be approached as a different sort of maturation story?
3. How important is setting in this story? In what ways is that setting established? What use does the story make of dialect?
4. What is the effect on the reader of the description of the neat house and yard in the first three paragraphs of the story? Is that effect sustained or reinforced throughout the story?
5. What is accomplished by the use of an educated narrator of Hurston’s story?
6. Does the educated narrator provide a framework that helps to detach the reader from the characters in the story?
7. Hurston maintains a stylistic contrast between the standard English of the narrator and the dialect of the characters. To what extent is this contrast essential to the story?
8. Why is the “voice” of the narrator less necessary at the end of the story?
9. The narrator is omniscient but presents few of the thoughts of the characters. Why is that? Is the narrator reliable?
10. Does the omniscient narrator offer a perspective on the characters that they themselves lack and that an unassisted reader is unlikely to perceive?
11. Comment on the descriptive functions of the dialect. Comment on Hurston’s use of metaphors and similes in the African American dialect she presents:
a. “Turn it go, Joe”
b. “A real wife, not no dress and breath”
c. “puzzlegut,” “chuckle-headed,” “a pone behind his neck”
d. “You womens sho is hard to sense into things”
e. “making little feet for shoes”
f. “her ma used tuh fan her foot round.”
12. Does “God took pattern after pine tree and built you noble” ring true, or does it sound contrived?
13 . If the problem of adultery is not the main theme of The Gilded Six Bits, what is? Or does the story lack an identifiable, well-developed central idea or theme?
14. To the reader “Mr. Otis D. Slemmons, of spots and places—Memphis, Chicago, Jacksonville, Philadelphia and so on” is an obvious fraud. Why do the two main characters fail to see what the reader so quickly sees?
15. What besides Slemmons’ jargon, his bragging, and his appearance, suggests that he is a fraud?
16. Missie May’s assertion that she dislikes Slemmons, when she first discusses him, seems genuine. Why is that?
17. Slemmons is described as being a “heavy-set man wid his mouth full of gold teethes” and having “a pone [roll of fat] behind his neck.” Is his appeal to Missie May—even with his promises of money and his persistence—convincing?
18. Is Missie May’s explanation that she fell because “he said he was gointer give me dat gold money and he jes’ kept on after me” convincing?
19. What is suggested by the elaborate game, centered on money, that Joe and Missie May play? For what does it prepare the reader?
20. Does anything in the story suggest that Missie May’s character changes? Does Joe’s character change?
21. Is Joe’s response, when he discovers Missie May’s adultery with Slemmons, consistent with his character?
22. What might be Hurston’s response to the criticism that her stories lack adequate plots and adequate character development?
23. Identify key similarities and differences between this story and Toomer’s.