In Zora Neale Hurston’s “Color Struck,” Emmaline and John, a couple, encounter significant conflict due to Emma’s colorism. Her jealousy and suspicion that John likes lighter-skinned blacks better than her prevents her from having a good time (and eventually, a life) with John. Throughout the events of the play, Emma is perpetually beset by bad decisions and poor choices stemming from that distrust of different hues of black. Psychoanalytical perspective involves bringing the subconscious desires and prejudices of a person or persons into the light, in order to examine why they do the things they do. Psychoanalyzing Emma throughout the course of Color Struck, it is clear that she possesses immense hatred for those of different hues of black, and has incredibly low self-esteem and a fear of abandonment. All of these issues will be explored in detail.
Emma’s colorism is at the heart of her own problems, which help bring about the conflict she has with the other characters. When she displays incredible jealousy and distrust to Effie, a lighter-skinned black woman who is nice to John, he says to her, “Emma, what makes you always picking a fuss with me over some yaller girl. What makes you so jealous, nohow? I don’t do nothing” (Hurston, Scene I). And, of course, he is right – Emma is behaving irrationally, and she recognizes this. Her jealousy comes from her fear that John will leave her for someone less black – “I loves you so hard, John, and jealous love is the only kind I got” (Scene I).
This hatred for lighter-skinned blacks does not extend merely to Effie; her own daughter Lou Lillian is also subject to this colorism. Emma’s own hatred of lighter-skinned blacks is reflective of her own insecurities, which take her on self-destructive paths. Her jealousy of Effie leads her relationship with John to falter, and also costs her her daughter, because she does not get Lou Lillian the help she needs at the time. When John comes back and talks with her, she attacks him for showing attention to Lou Lillian, presumably due to her mulatto color. “So this the woman I’ve been wearing over my heart like rose for twenty years! She so despises her own that she can’t believe any one else could love it…. Twenty years! Twenty years of adoration, hunger, of worship!” (Scene IV)
The title of the play – Color Struck – is indicative of Emma’s own preoccupation with her own skin color. The fact that she is pure black has a negative effect on her self-esteem – she is barely concerned with segregation on the whole, instead focusing her hatred on inter-black politics and the perceived gap between dark-and-light skinned blacks. This is due to Emma’s feelings of inadequacy, which are somewhat projected onto lighter-skinned blacks as an object of derision and jealousy. She perceives that lighter-skinned blacks get everything that she wants (affection, love, men) – therefore, she hates them, and violently resists all perceived attempts to get what is hers (John’s love, primarily). Whether it is Effie being nice to John, or John’s adoration of Lou Lillian, Emma cannot stand when he shows attention to someone lighter skinned than her.
In conclusion, Emma from Color Struck is dealing with several major issues, stemming primarily from her own sense of inadequacy and low self-esteem. She does not feel beautiful or wanted in the face of lighter-skinned blacks, and so she lashes out; in so doing, however, she also makes herself an unappealing figure to be around, resulting in the retreat from her life of everyone who cares about her (John, Lou Lillian in death). Emma feels wronged by the world, particularly due to her dissatisfaction with her skin color, and chooses to take it out on those around her. This leaves her empty, pushing everyone away who might potentially hurt her, refusing to let anyone in.
Hurston, Z. N. (2001). Color struck ([1st electronic ed.). Alexandria, VA: Alexander Street Press.