Zora Neale Hurston on Divorce and Alimony

I’ve written some about alimony, its proper and improper uses.  The following is a recently discovered satirical work published in 1927  by Harlem Renaissance writer Zora Neale Hurston.  Thanks to Don for the heads-up.

Monkey Junk: A Satire on Modern Divorce

1. And it came to pass in those days that one dwelt in the land of the Harlemites who thought that he knew all the law and the prophets.

2. Also when he arose in the morning and at noonday his mouth flew open and he said, “Verily, I am a wise guy. I knoweth all about women.”

3. And in the cool of the evening he saith and uttereth, “I know all that there is about the females. Verily, I shall not let myself be married.”

4. Thus he counselled within his liver for he was persuaded that merry maidens were like unto death for love of him.

5. But none desired him.

6. And in that same year a maiden gazeth upon his checkbook and she coveted it.

7. Then became she coy and sweet with flattery and he swalloweth the bait.

8. And in that same month they became man and wife.

9. Then did he make a joyful noise saying, “Behold, I have chosen a wife, yea verily a maiden I have exalted above all others, for see I have wed her.”

10. And he gave praises loudly unto the Lord saying, “I thank thee that I am not as other men–stupid and blind and imposed upon by every female that listeth. Behold how diligently I have sought and winnowed out the chaff from the wheat! Verily have I chosen well, and she shalt be rewarded for her virtue, for I shall approve and honor her.”

11. And for an year did he wooed her with his shekels and comfort her with his checkbook and she endured him.

12. Then did his hand grow weary of check signing and he slackened his speed.

13. Then did his pearl of great price form the acquaintance of many men and they prospered her.

14. Then did he wax wrathful in his heart because other men posed the tongue into the cheek and snickered behind the hand as he passed, saying, “Verily his head is decorated with the horns, he that is so wise and knoweth all the law and the profits.”

16. And he chided his wife saying, “How now dost thou let others less worthy bite thy husband in the back? Verily now I am sore and I meaneth not maybe.”

17. But she answered him laughingly saying, “Speak not out of turn. Thou wast made to sign checks, not to make love signs. Go now, and broil thyself an radish.”

18. Then answered he, “Thy tongue doth drip sassiness and thy tonsils impudence, know ye not that I shall leave thee?”

19. But she answered him with much gall, “Thou canst not do better than to go–but see that thou leave behind thee many signed checks.”

20. And when he heard these things did he gnash his teeth and sweat great hunks of sweat.

21. And he answered, “Verily I am through with thee–thou canst NOT snore in my ear no more.

22. Then placeth she her hands upon the hip and sayeth, “Let not that lie get out, for thou art NOT through with me.”

23. And he answered her saying, “Thou has flirted copiously and surely the backbiters shall sign thy checks henceforth–for I am through with thee.”

24. But she answered him, “Nay, thou art not through with me–for I am a darned sweet woman and thou knowest it. Don’t let that lie get out. Thou shalt never be through with me as long as thou hath bucks.”

25. “Thou art very dumb for now that I, thy husband, knoweth that thou art a flirt, making glad the heart of back-biters, I shall support thee no more–for verily know I ALL the law and the profits thereof.”

26. Then answered she with a great sassiness of tongue, “Neither shalt not deny me thy shekels for I shall seek them in law, yea shall I lift up my voice and the lawyers and judges shall hear my plea and thou shalt pay dearly. For, verily, they permit no turpitudinous mama to suffer. Selah and amen.”

27. But he laughed at her saying hey! hey! hey! many times for verily he considered with his kidneys that he knew his rights.

28. Then went she forth to the market place and sought the places that deal in fine raiment and bought much fine linen, yea lingerie and hosiery of fine silk, for she knew in her heart that she must sit in the seat of a witness and hear testimony to many things lest she get no alimony.

29. Even of French garters bought she the finest.

30. Then hastened she away to the houses where sat Pharisees and Sadducees and those who know the law and the profits, and one among them was named Miles Paige, him being a young man of a fair countenance.

31. And she wore her fine raiment and wept mightily as she told of her wrongs.

32. But he said unto her, “Thou has not much of a case, but I shall try it for thee. But practice not upon me neither with tears nor with hosiery–for verily I be not a doty juryman. Save thy raiment for the courts.”

33. But her husband sought no counsel for he said, “Surely she hath sinned against me–even cheated most vehemently. Shall not the court rebuke her when I shall tell of it. For verily I know also the law.”

34. Then came the officer of the court and said, “Thou shalt give thy wife temporary alimony of fifty shekels until the trial cometh.”

35. And he was wrathful but he wagged the head and said, “I pay now, but after the trial I shall pay no more. He that laughest last is worth two in the bush.”

36. And entered he boldly into the courts of law and sat down at the trial. And his wife and her lawyer came also.

37. But he looked upon the young man and laughed for Miles Paige had yet no beard and the husband looked upon him with scorn, even as Goliath looked upon David.

38. And the judge sat upon the high seat and the jury sat in the box and many came to see and to hear, and the husband rejoiced within his heart for the multitude would hear him speak and confound the learned doctors.

39. Then called he witnesses and they did testify that the wife was an flirt. And they sat upon the stand again and the young Pharisee, even Paige questioned them, and verily they were steadfast.

40. Then did the husband rejoice exceedingly and ascended the stand and testified of his great goodness unto his spouse.

41. And when the young lawyer asked no questions he waxed stiff necked for he divined that he was afraid.

42. And the young man led the wife upon the stand and she sat upon the chair of witnesses and bear testimony.

43. And she gladdened the eyes of the jury and the judge leaned down from his high seat and beamed upon her for verily she was some brown.

44. And she turned soulful eyes about her and all men yearned to fight for her.

45. Then did she testify and cross the knees, even the silk covered joints, and weep. For verily she spoke of great evils visited upon her.

46. And the young Pharisee questioned her gently and the jury leaneth forward to catch every word which fell from her lips.

47. For verily her lips were worth it.

48. Then did they all glare upon the husband; yea, the judge and jury frowned upon the wretch, and would have choked him.

49. And when the testimony was finished and she had descended from the stand, did the young man, even Miles Paige stand before the jury and exhort them.

50. Saying, “When in the course of human events, Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou and how come what for?” And many other sayings of exceeding wiseness.

51. Then began the jury to foam at the mouth and went the judge into centrance. Moreover made the lawyer many gestures which confounded the multitude, and many cried, “Amen” to his sayings.

52. And when he had left off speaking then did the jury cry out “Alimony (which being interpreted means all his jack) aplenty!”

53. And the judge was pleased and said “An hundred shekels per month.”

54. Moreover did he fine the husband heavily for his cruelties and abuses and his witnesses for perjury.

55. Then did the multitude rejoice and say “Great is Miles Paige, and mighty is the judge and jury.”

56. And then did the husband rend his garments and cover his head with ashes for he was undone.

57. But privately he went to her and said, “Surely, thou has tricked me and I am undone by thy guile. Wherefore, now should I not smite thee, even mash thee in the mouth with my fist?”

58. And she answered him haughtily saying, “Did I not say that thou wast a dumb cluck? Go to, now, thou had better not touch this good brown skin.”

59. And he full of anger spoke unto her, “But I shall surely smite thee in the nose–how doth old heavy hitting papa talk?”

60. And she made answer unto him, “Thou shalt surely go to the cooler if thou stick thy rusty fist in my face, for I shall holler like a pretty white woman.”

61. And he desisted. And after many days did he receive a letter saying “Go to the monkeys, thou hunk of mud, and learn things and be wise.”

62. And he returned unto Alabama to pick cotton.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *