Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, Massachusetts

Zora Neale  Hurston

Mary  Coughlin 

The Impact of Influenza on Boston in 1918

Adversity as the Wellspring of Self-Discovery in the Works of Zora Neale Hurston

The year 1918 was a very influential year for Boston. Along with the Red Sox winning the World Series, the Influenza Epidemic was one of the main events that occurred in 1918. The Influenza Epidemic shut down the city for 3 weeks and the cost of living increased. These two combinations caused great hardships for Bostonians because they were not getting paid during the lockdown, adding more financial problems troubles to an already troubling time. During the Influenza Epidemic, Boston stood on a wartime footing, as the United States had joined World War I in 1917. This meant that there were limited numbers of nurses and doctors available to care for Bostonians because they were caring for the wounded soldiers. Because of the low numbers of healthcare providers and unfamiliarity with Influenza treatments, the victims suffered high mortality rates. Even though the deaths in Boston took a toll on families in the city, Hurston?s characters find their self-identity through the death of their loved ones.

The central characters of Zora Neale Hurston?s novels all deal with adversity within the context of abusive marriages and relationships, though in contrast to the citizens of Boston during the Influenza of 1918, death often provides a release from their hardships and an opportunity for self-growth. Characters such as Janie of Their Eyes Were Watching God are held back from discovering who they are by controlling spouses. As a teenager, Janie?s grandmother does not give her a choice as to whether she will marry because her grandmother is primarily concerned with Janie having a financially stable future. Thus, later in the novel, instead of mourning Joe Starks, her husband of over twenty years, Janie is filled with joy that she is now allowed to venture off to discover what she wants out of life. When Starks dies, Janie is alleviated of the burden of being "Mrs. Mayor Starks," free to remove the headscarf Joe has forced her to wear, and at last live her life with no one telling her what to do.

Major Works Consulted:

"1918 Flu Pandemic." A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 30 Jan. 2015.
"Boston, Massachusetts and the 1918-1919 Influenza Epidemic." Influenza Encyclopedia. 30 Jan. 2015. .
Hurston, Zora Neale. Jonah's Gourd Vine. New York: HarperCollins, 1998.
---. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York: Perennial, 1990.