In 1937, the novelist Richard Wright (Native Son) reviewed Their Eyes Were Watching God. He argued: ???Miss Huston voluntarily continues in her novel the tradition which was forced upon the Negro in the theater, that is, the minstrel technique that makes ???the white folks??™ laugh??¦.The novel carries no theme, no message, no thought. In the main, her novel is not addressed to the Negro, but to a white audience whose chauvinistic tastes she knows how to satisfy.??? How would you answer his criticism ???Williams taught Their Eyes Were Watching God for the first time at Cal State Fresno, in a migrant area where the students, like the characters in Their Eyes, were used to making a living for themselves from the land.
???For the first time??™, Williams says, ???they saw themselves in these characters and they saw their lives portrayed with joy.???(pg ix) Zora Neale Hurston??™s, Their Eyes Were Watching God was a highly debated topic in literature during the Harlem Renaissance. Although this novel received much criticism from fellow African American authors such as Richard Wright, Hurston??™s unconventional style has transcended through time as a great literary work. Is it fair to ostracize a piece of work because of its unique and complex style Hurston??™s novel was written during the Harlem Renaissance where the main topic was racism. This theme was depicted throughout several novels including Wright??™s Native Son in an attempt show black difference.
Hurston used a different approach; her use of southern colloquialism added such depth and richness to the novel. ???If Ah kin haul de wood heah and chop it fuh yuh, look lak you oughta be able tuh tote it inside??? (pg 25); the use of southern dialect depicts blacks as they are and not how they should be. Richard Wright also used this type of dialect in his novel Native Son but not to the extent as Hurston. Wright??™s purpose of dialect in his novel was to achieve a different goal than from Hurston??™s. Her goal was to capture the complexity of the black culture in a way that was not yet seen before. Her use of the dialect was to show that black culture was different from white culture and she used the colloquial dialect to show such difference. Zora Neale Hurston also used the oldest literary form, the quester novel, to portray her protagonist and to open a door into the Negro community.
Janie Mae Crawford, a 16 year old black girl, is the protagonist of this novel who is trying to find herself through a journey for her own identity. She endures two failed marriages, a hurricane, and the death of her true love before she finds her self-fulfillment. Hurston portrays Janie as a determined young black woman who is not stereotyped as ???the overweight mammy, the tragic mulatto, or the promiscuous Jezebel.??? Does such effort sound like a novel that had no though put into it Hurston uses a variety of symbols to display layers of meanings that reoccur throughout Their Eyes Were Watching God. The imagery of the horizon in this novel represents Janie??™s dreams of self-actualization. In the beginning, it depicts Janie??™s aspirations of her life outside of her unhappy marriage to Logan Killicks. ???[Men] sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time.
??? I think Janie uses her dreams to find her truth. The horizon is significant for Janie because she searched so long for the horizon that when she found it and it was taken from her, she was at peace. The pear tree also plays in important role in Janie??™s awareness and peace. ???She was stretched on her back beneath the pear tress soaking in the alto chant of the visiting bees, the gold of the sun and the panting breath of the breeze when the inaudible voices of it all came to her??? (pg 10) emphasizes Janie??™s slow awakening into womanhood. The vivid imagery of this scene shows Janie??™s realization of becoming a woman. ???She saw a dust-bearing bee sink into the sanctum of a bloom??? (pg 10) shows the pollination of a flower and a love, a marriage that she wishes to share with someone.
The pear tree is subtly referred to throughout every marriage Janie has; ???she waited a bloom time??? (pg 23) in her marriage to Logan Killicks to progress into love; ???A bee for her bloom??? (pg 31), in reference to Joe Starks and the constant companionship she would have from him; He ???kissed her until she arched her body to meet him and they feel asleep in sweet exhaustion??? (pg 132) a correlation between their love and the ???marriage??? between the bee and the flower. The pear tree and the horizon symbolize Janie??™s connection with nature and her struggle to find her equilibrium in the world. For Mr. Wright??™s blunt accusations of Hurston??™s novel containing no theme, message, or thought could be seen as insulting to Zora Neale Hurston. Her unconventional style did not receive the attention it deserved due to the reluctancy of fellow authors to welcome her complexity; not only as a woman but as an author. Wright??™s views to such an atypical type of writing style altered his willingness to accept the changing literary world.
Just because the normal topic of race was not addressed, does not give authors the right to disregard her work as uneducated or ???chauvinistic???. Hurston??™s vivid imagery of the pear tree and the horizon begin Janie??™s journey into self identity and ironically end her journey. ???Two things everybody??™s got tuh do fuh theyself. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin??™ fuh theyself.??? (pg 133)