Their Eyes Were Watching God
is written by Zora Neal Hurston an African American woman in 1937. This story
is about Janie Crawford, whose lifelong quest is to find true love. Janie
narrates the story of her three marriages and her search for love to her friend
Phoeby. When Janie is young, her grandmother arranges her marriage with a man
named Logan Killicks, who becomes Janie’s first husband. Janie is not content
with her marriage to Logan but optimistically wishes that she would grow to
love him. Unfortunately, her hopes are met by abuse by Logan, whom she feels
treats her as a child and as an animal to work in his fields. One day Janie
meets an ambitious man named Jody Starks, who courts her and ultimately
encourages her to run away from Logan. Janie complies; they marry and head off
together to Eatonville, Florida. Janie finally feels that she might be happy
for the first time in a long time. However, Joe, like Logan, has very
unyielding definitions of gender roles and expects Janie to support him and not
argue with him. Janie is too outspoken for this, and she and Joe have a rocky
relationship. Joe eventually dies, leaving Janie independent. After Joe dies,
Janie finally has her freedom back; she is finally able to take her ugly head
wrap that she had been wearing for more than 20 years. After a while, she falls
in love with a much younger man named Tea Cake. Janie leaves everything behind
and moves to the Everglades of Florida. Janie finally has the love that she has
longed for, and she and Tea Cake are happy. When a hurricane hits rabid dog
attacks Janie, and when Tea Cake tries to save her, he is bitten by the dog and
contracts rabies. As a result, he begins to go mad, and he eventually tries to
shoot Janie. She kills him in self-defense and is put on trial for murder. At the
trial, Tea Cake’s black male friends show up to condemn Janie, but a group of
white women from the town shows up to defend her. The all-white jury sets her
free, Janie throws an extravagant burial for Tea Cake and returns back to

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Overview of historical/ biographical theory criticism

An historical approach to literary interpretation and
analysis is one of the oldest and one of the most widely used critical approach. 
“Historical criticism, literary criticism in the light
of historical evidence or based on the context in which a
work was written, including facts about the author’s life and the historical
and social circumstances of the time. This is in contrast to other types of
criticism, such as textual and formal, in which emphasis is placed on examining
the text itself while outside influences on the text are disregarded” ( Britannica).

In Their Eyes Were
Watching God we can apply this theory that shows the
first is the “suspended woman,” the victim of men and of society as a whole,
with few or no options, “suspended” because she can’t do anything about her
situation (Tyson 385).  Examples include
Nannie in Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937).

second type is the “assimilated woman,” who is not victimized by physical
violence and has much more control of her life, but who is victimized by
psychological violence in that she is cut off from her African American roots
by her desire to be accepted by white society (Tyson 385) . This type is often
found in works set in the 1940s and 1950s. Examples include Mrs. Turner in
Their Eyes Were Watching God. Finally, the third character type is the
“emergent woman,” who is coming to an awareness of her own psychological and
political oppression and becoming capable of creating a new life and new
choices for herself, usually through a harsh experience of initiation that
makes her ready for the change (Tyson 385). As the example of Janie
illustrates, these character types are not confined to the historical settings
with which they are generally associated.




Hurston life to the novel

While Their Eyes Were
Watching God is a work of fiction, it has been considered autobiographical as
well. Hurston reveals her personality through the interaction of the author’s, protagonist’s,
narrator’s voices and through the narrative events. Hurston’s father has been
lodged in many characteristics of Jody Stark. Like Jody, her father moved to a solely
black town called Eatonville as in the novel. Her father John Hurston was also
noted for “being very ambitious, hard-headed and having a prominent position of
carpenter as well being a Baptist preacher and attaining a position of power
within the South Florida Baptist Association”. (Robert 5)  Like Jody, he sought out to be a leader
within the fledgling community of Eatonville Janie similarly shares many
characteristics with Hurston. One of the most prominent images is that of the
road in the novel. The novel is about Janie’s journey; Hurston was very much a
traveler herself, she was fascinated in “anthropological research into the
folklore and cultural heritage of the southern blacks” (Robert 5). This
curiosity initiated her to go to many different places gathering information in
the south, and while traveling she erudite more about herself as exploring and
returning back to her roots. These adventure and trips essential started having
influence in her work deeply; her observance of the “Negro” culture and life is
utmostly noticeable through her extensive use of dialect as the dominant
language pattern in the novel.

The originality that is
seen from her character and portrayal of community life that proposes that she
is not simply just an outsider of her culture, but more part of it as well.For
instance when Janie and Tea Cake are living in the “muck” they join in the fun
with the game of “Florida flip” and “coon-can” (TEWWG 233), reciting rhythms
“Yo’ mama don’t wear no Draws” (TEWWG p.232), skipping and dancing
with the Bahamans people and telling exaggerated stories. There is a genuine
and authentic real sense of Hurston’s pride and marvel at her people’s culture,
it forms a unique framework of the novel and enhances liveliness.  Another evidence to propose that Zora is embedding
herself into the character of Janie. As a child Hurston was creative and imaginative,
frequently claiming, “The birds, trees, and lake talked to her” (p14
Howard). Similarly, in the novel the pear tree “talks” to Janie in an
“inaudible voice” (p.24) about marriage and love. On her autobiography,
she recalls that she “used to climb to the top of one of the huge
chinaberry trees which guarded our front gate and look out over the world. The
most interesting thing that I saw was the horizon”. (Hurston 44)  This parallels when Janie is sixteen and “searched
as much of the world as she could from the top of the front steps”. This instinctive
curiosity is deceptive in both Hurston and Janie from an early stage and begins
looking for that “horizon” throughout her life’s journey. In the novel, it ends
when Janie pulls “in her horizon like a great fish-net”(Hurston 193).
The horizon is not in front of her instead but around her. This novel also
“signifies” upon feminine images in nineteenth-century narratives written by
African American women. (woolflm 4) Consequently, it delivers a significant
connection between those earlier narratives and novels written by African
American women in the last quarter of the twentieth century. Contrasting
literary forebear such as “W. Harper, Frances E, and Pauline Hopkins, Hurston
rejected to stereotype her protagonist or to imitate to earlier plotlines established
by white predecessors”. (woolflm 9) Hurston thrusted Janie far beyond the
limitations and boundaries that reserved the “true woman” of the nineteenth
century, and in doing so, she delivered a heroic African American woman that
was to greatly influence twentieth-century writers such as Alice Walker.




Harlem Renaissance

literary period knowns as the Harlem Renaissance in early 1920’s began,
allowing and uplifting black artists and authors a voice in the societies across
America. The artists of this era “Rejected the notion of the racial struggle as
the sole mission of the black elite. Instead, this group was dedicated to
literature and the arts as paths to uplift the black race,” (The Queen of the
Harlem Renaissance 52).

of the prominent authors of this time was Zora Neale Hurston who approached the
theme of this era in a vastly different way than her peers, but her goal was
the same: “to uphold and promote the literary work of black people” (rollins).
Hurston tried to link the cultural breach between whites and blacks while her
peers moved to obtain equality between both races. The Harlem Renaissance is commonly
thought to have begun in the 1920’s, ending in the late 1930’s (Aberjhani xviii),
just before the Great Depression. The movement have been said to be an expansion
of “a unique awakening of mind and spirit, of race consciousness and artistic
advancement” (Aberjhani xviii).

this was the time where black people discovered their own forms of literature
and other forms of art and became more aware of themselves as. Numerous genres
came out of the Harlem Renaissance containing the musical genres Jazz, Ragtime
and the Blues; as well as black literature journalism, visual arts and theater (Aberjhani
xviii).  Writers of this era were “motivated
to write about black heroes and heroic episodes from American History as well
as the need for African Americans to express a franker and deeper revelation of
the black self” (West 202). Hence, they sought to express their own culture where
they were still being discriminated, not respected and or wanted.



Zora Neale Hurston
as a woman and a writer in Harlem Renaissance

published a surplus of literary works in her lifetime, including “essays,
folklore, short stories, novels, plays, articles on anthropology and
autobiography”(Aberjhani163), Their Eyes
Were Watching God being one of the most widely read. Hurston did not write
for the greater political good but rather just for the sake of writing.  Many argue her place in the Harlem
Renaissance, referring “her flat refusal to politicize her early writings by
adopting the prevailing notions driving African-American social reform”
(Dawson, Aberjhani, 165). Nevertheless, Hurston wrote influential and powerful works
that were broadly read by both races alike. . Against
the flow of racial anger, she wrote about sex, talk, work, music, and life’s
unpoisoned pleasures, suggesting that these things existed even for people of
color, even in America; and she was harshly adjudicated. In Wright’s account,
her novel contained “no theme, no message, no thought” (Howard). By illustrating
a Southern small-town world in which blacks enjoyed their own rich cultural
traditions, and were able to assume responsibility for their own lives, Hurston
appeared a blithely and criticized by the Harlem renaissance writers.







How was
Hurston work different from others

To many of Hurston’s peers, creating art during the Harlem
Renaissance meant concentrating on the black experience and struggle with the Great Migration, which was “the movement of millions of black Americans from
the rural South to the urban North” (woolflm). Many
of the migrants left their families and homes to escape the danger and violence
pledged by white supremacists and typically a universal need to escape a “land
soaked in much bad blood” (woolflm), or to find work and opportunities in an
increasingly industrialized urban setting. Hurston instead, saw
black culture, in all its “geographical incarnations as persistently emerging
and reinventing itself” (Robert). Therefore, when Janie spends the majority of Their Eyes Were Watching God trudging through the Florida muck and surrounded by black men
and women who would sound a lot like the black “mammies” and “uncles” (Robert),
Hurston is intent of conveying these characters into the modern era. We
follow Janie’s journey through life as she tries to follow her heart in pursuit
of romantic love that is fulfilling to her emotionally and physically. When
Janie finally meets Tea Cake, a man at least a decade younger we realize that
Hurston is offering number of revolutionary possibilities. First, that
financial security does not need to be the basis of a modern black women’s
love; second, that romantic love is not only for the young; and third, that
modernity doesn’t only occur in the city. Hurston’s depiction of black modern
womanhood she displays that it is possible for all black women, no matter their
location or socio-economic status, to be worthy of a love they desire. The repossession
of that space and possibility may not seem revolutionary, but history continues
to show that black love and freedom are perpetually difficult to display. In Their Eyes Were
Watching God, Hurston offers a moving call for black people to
embrace a new kind of love, one based upon partnership and not ownership.

The use of back
dialect instead of Standard English

novel frequently transitions form a heavy southern dialect as the characters
speak, to a prefect English when the narrator is speaking.  This displays Hurston staying true to her
Southern roots as portraying her characters in the way they truly are.  Hurston writes the narrative in perfect,
proper English. Her use of strong metaphors and vivid imagery to depict the
life of Janie in the Southern towns of Florida. By writing this way, she also appealed
to white audiences. If she had written the narrative with more slang and
African American voice, she may not have been as widely read by white people. In
spite of the fact that Hurston writes the narrative this way, she uses the
vernacular for her dialogue. By doing this, she is remaining true to her southern
black roots.  Many criticized the novel
for using the Southern dialect in her novel. One reviewer said  “Her dialect is really sloppy…To let the
really important words stand as in Webster and then consistently misspell no
more than an aspiration in any tongue…the vernacular reads with about this
emphasis: ‘DAT WUZ UH might fine thing FUH you TUH do.’ (Ferguson 78) Ferguson
is saying that writing in the vernacular pulls attention away from the importance
of the sentence and draws attention to the tedious words. From the time the
novel first came out the dialect was a problem with reviewers (Heard 131), but
Hurston “Voiced her commitment to represent the language of the Southern black
community realistically,” (Heard 131). Thus, she did not care that her way of
writing brought criticism; she wanted to stay true to her culture. During the
Harlem Renaissance, she faced “Extreme censorship and she needed to create a
style that would not alienate her writing from white readers but at the same
time she could not completely separate herself from the values and traditions
of her “home” culture,” (Heard 131). It is unquestionably effective in connecting
the rhythm and music of African-American culture in the Deep South in the early
20th century. Hurston captures with her spelling the pronunciation that was common in
the black community during those years and in that location. Thus, we can see
and even hear the way of spoken language at that time, and within that specific
social group. Looking back from the present, we also see that it captures a
moment in time where Hurston records
how people spoke at the time she was writing. It may be the case that this is
no longer true. Historians have look at novels like Hurston’s and seen how
linguistic dialects have changed over time.



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