Gloomed and Uglied Away



Zora Neale Hurston.


From a letter Zora Neale Hurston sent to her editor, Burroughs Mitchell, in 1947. Hurston’s correspondence is collected in Zora Neale Hurston: A Life in Letters (2002), edited by Carla Kaplan. 

Have you ever been tied in close contact with a person who had a strong sense of inferiority? I have, and it is hell. They carry it like a raw sore on the end of the index finger. You go along thinking well of them and doing what you can to make them happy and suddenly you are brought up short with an accusation of looking down on them, taking them for a fool, etc., but they mean to let you know and so on and so forth. It colors everything. For example, I took this man that I cared for down to Carl Van Vechten’s one night so that he could meet some of my literary friends, since he had complained that I was always off with them, and ignoring him. I hoped to make him feel at home with the group and included so that he would go where I went. What happened? He sat off in a corner and gloomed and uglied away, and we were hardly out on the street before he was accusing me of having dragged him down there to show off what a big shot I was and how far I was above him. He had a good mind, many excellent qualities, and I am certain that he loved me. But his feeling of inferiority would crop up and hurt me at the most unexpected moments. Right in the middle of what I considered some sweet gesture on my part, I would get my spiritual pants kicked up around my neck like a horse-collar. I asked him to bring me all the clippings on TELL MY HORSE, and he brought several and literally flung them at me. “You had read them” he accused, “and knew that they were flattering. You just asked me to get them to see how great you were.” You know how many marriages in the literary and art world have broken up such rocks, to say nothing of other paths of life. A business man is out scuffling for dear life to get things for the woman he loves, and she is off pouting and accusing him of neglecting her. She feels that way because she does not feel herself able to keep up with the pace that he is setting, and just be confident that she is wanted no matter how far he goes. Millions of women do not want their husbands to succeed for fear of losing him. It is a very common ailment. That is why I decided to write about it. The sufferers do not seem to realize that all that is needed is a change of point of view from fear into self-confidence and then there is no problem. I had not seen these reviews, and thought that it would be a gesture to make him feel included to get them for me and look what happened. Though brash enough otherwise, I got an overwhelming complex about my looks before I was grown, and it was very hard for a long time for me to believe that any man really cared for me. I set out to win my fight against this feeling, and I did. I don’t care how homely I am now. I know that is doesn’t really matter, and so my relations with others are easier. Perhaps I am even cocky like Tallulah Bankhead, whom I admire enormously.