The Authors' Portrayal of Dilemmas and How They Overcame Them in Looking Things Over by Zora Neale Hurston and Mother Tongue by Amy Tan

Topics: Amy Tan

Both Looking Things Over by Zora Neale Hurston and Mother Tongue by Amy Tan are autobiographical essays written from a first person point of view. Although both portray the authors’ struggles, I preferred Looking Things Over. In my opinion, Hurston did a better job of articulating her idea through her use of vivid imagery, colloquial dialect, and pieces of universal wisdom. I personally loved Zora Neale Hurston’s use of imagery in Looking Things Over. She used phrases that portrayed her point clearly while inviting the reader to see and feel what she meant.

In the first paragraph, she says “Then I have stood on the peaky mountain wrappen in rainbows, with a harp and a sword in my hands.” This sentence is simple but paints the image of Hurston’s feeling of achievement unequivocally.

In contrast, Amy Tan does not use much effective imagery. Although she does express her feelings of inadequacy and shame, Tan does not use descriptive language to help her readers empathize with her plight.

Another aspect that I feel greatly contributes to Hurston’s piece is the colloquial dialect used. Hurston does not use lengthy words to impress her readers but instead uses simple but elegant style. In one section of her essay, she uses an old African American parable to further her point. Another sentence that particularly resonated with me was when Hurston stated, “When I see what we really are like, I know that God is too great an artist for we folks on my side of the creek to be all of His best works.

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Some of His finest touches are among us, without doubt, but some more of His masterpieces are among those folks who live over the river.” This simple statement shows Hurston’s humble beliefs about her own race, other races, and the equality between them. Although she uses simple language, it is very elegant and full of profound meaning.

Comparatively, Mother Tongue falls sadly short. Although Tan proudly proclaims she is proud of her non-American background and her mother’s “Limited English,” she writes her entire piece in a very articulate style. She seems to use complex words just for the sake of showing that she has a very educated vocabulary. Tan carefully stays away from any references to her own Chinese culture or language, which I feel would have added to her essay. Unfortunately, Mother Tongue’s language did not appeal to me and left me slightly bored. Hurston’s practical wisdom really impressed me. While Hurston humbly claims that she is not perfect and may not be correct, she gently advocates the beliefs that she has gained looking over her life. She admits that she, like many others, wishes for universal justice, but astoutly observes that “It is such a complicated thing, for justice, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.”

Even though she has witnessed tragedy and felt heartbreak throughout her life, she remains optimistic and declares “Seeing these things, I have come to the point by trying to make the day at hand a positive thing, and realizing the uselessness of gloominess.” Zora Neale Hurston offers many simple pieces of wisdom that are still profound today. Amy Tan does speak of her own revelation and the valuable knowledge she has gained from her predicament. She voices her old, incorrect beliefs that her mother’s broken English “reflected the quality of what she had to say. That is, because she expressed them imperfectly her thoughts were imperfect.” She goes on to explain how she realized the error of these thoughts and grew into a better person and writer because of it.

Although this is a valuable lesson to be learned, I feel that this is somewhat of a cliché. The story plays out very much like an “after-school special” and for me at least, failed to show any real emotions or deeper meaning. In my opinion, Tan expressed the sentiments and emotions expected from her and not much more. Both Looking Things Over by Zora Neale Hurston and Mother Tongue by Amy Tan are essays portraying the authors’ dilemmas and how they overcame them. Although I felt that both pieces have literary merit, I believe that Looking Things Over uses imagery, colloquial dialect, and universal wisdom more effectively, making it a better and more enjoyable piece.

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The Authors' Portrayal of Dilemmas and How They Overcame Them in Looking Things Over by Zora Neale Hurston and Mother Tongue by Amy Tan. (2022, Mar 08). Retrieved from

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