Their Eyes Were Watching God: Portrayal of Societal Issues During Harlem Renaissance
Zora Neale Hurston’s novel Their Eyes Were Watching God was published during the conclusion of the Harlem Renaissance, her novel is known for its literary movement. However, her work was highly criticized by other writers of the period. The reason for this criticism was her failure to correctly represent black culture and its flaws. Her novel is about how hard it is for colored women to gain independence and personal freedom. Although, Zora Neale Hurston’s novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, wasn’t much of a success back then, it is now greatly known for its motifs, imagery, and diction used to write a love story to emphasize the American Dream.
Hurston was a very successful woman, yet she was also very poor. She was constantly faced with the deficit of pride and shame. When Hurston was just 14 years old she had already gone and gotten a job of her own, working as a maid for white families. Soon after, she attended Morgan Academy in Baltimore, paid for by one of her employers. From there the young women’s educational opportunities began to expand drastically. She ended her studies after enrolling in four universities total. In the early 1930’s Hurston published her first novel, Jonah’s Gourd Vine. Shortly after, she published the novel Mules and Men, earning herself much respect in the world of literature. In the mid 40’s Hurston was accused of allegedly acting out with a young boy. Although, the crime was resolved later on, her reputation and popularity was already shot.
One of the many literary elements Zora Neale Hurston uses in Their Eyes Were Watching God is symbolism. Zora uses symbolism to describe the dreams of her main protagonist, Janie. Like the pear tree, “Janie had spent most of the day under the blossoming pear tree in the backyard… ever since the first bloom opened. It had called her to come and gaze on in mystery.” (Hurston ch. 2 pg. 13), this symbolizes the sexual awakening Janie is feeling. She also uses motifs to give readers a deeper understanding of the communities shown in the novel. In Janie’s hometown, Zora describes the women as petty and jealous. “They made burning statements with questions, and killing tools out of laughs” (Hurston ch.1 pg.5), these cruel actions are the reason Janie cares so much about image. Another use of symbolism is Janie’s hair, and what it represents to the townspeople of Eatonville. To Janie her hair represents freedom, for others it represents beauty and youth. Janie’s second husband Joe only thought of her as a possession, he found a way to tame her hair so that others could not find her beautiful, “That night he ordered Janie to tie up her hair around the store” (Hurston ch.6 pg.31). Hurston uses stylistic elements such as diction in her novel to show the personalities and origins of her characters.
Most characters in her novel share the same dialect, “Ah can see you is. Gal, you sho looks good” (Hurston ch.1 pg.4). Hurston uses a unique southern draw that displays everyone’s personality and culture. It seems like Hurston as an African-American female writer was trying to convey a point. In the dialect, she portrays the blacks in the novel as speaking very broken, fragmented English. “You don’t have tuh say, if it wuzn’t fuh me, baby, cause Ah’m heah, and then Ah want yuh tuh know it’s uh man heah’ (Hurston ch.18 pg. 109). Her writing compared to her dialect shows the contrast in what people of the time may have thought about blacks as to what they were actually capable of as seen in Hurston’s prose. The different dialects also are indicative of individuality for the blacks of the time. Joe had slightly better speech than those around him, ‘Somebody got to think for women and chillun and chickens and cows. I god, they sho don’t think none theirselves’ (Hurston ch.6 pg.180). Hurston emphasizes Joe Starks dialect; as a result, he was found more superior than his peers. This proves that blacks of the time might not have been used to having good speech and that those who did were respected more.
Overall, Hurston’s novel Their Eyes Were Watching God describes how it felt and how much of a struggle it was to be a black woman in that time trying to make a decent life of herself. Marrying Logan Killicks was nowhere near Janie’s dream, she only secluded to the idea for the land he was willing to pass on and to fulfill her grandmother’s wishes. When Joe Starks came along speaking of the “all black town,” Eatonville, she believed she could find her true path with the thrilling, generous man. You can tell Janie is ready to run off when she says, “S’posin’ Ah was to run off and leave yuh sometime” (Hurston Ch. 4 Pg. 30). She was living a great life until Jody began to treat her more like a possession than a wife. When he hit her she just dealt with it, but that didn’t stop her from giving him the proper repercussion. Jody was diagnosed with a liver disease, and Janie probably could’ve helped him and she gave him a chance for redemption, but instead, she just let him die. “Have yo’ way all yo’ life, trample and mash down and then die ruther than tuh let yo’self heah’ bout it” (Hurston ch. 9 pg. 86). Janie began running the store and soon after Teacake showed up. “Janie’s first dream was dead, so she became a woman” (Hurston Ch. 3 Pg. 25). Janie was very hurt by the fact that she had to shoot Teacake due to the vicious dog bite.
Yet, the time Janie finally experienced becoming more of a person and becoming a woman of great honor was when she chose her own life by shooting Teacake. In conclusion of shooting Teacake, she became happy with herself to just understand that she would be fine alone. Their Eyes Were Watching God is considered a high school classic due to the novel’s astonishing style and its amazing overall theme. The story explores many traditional gender roles as a main topic. Each time Janie found herself with a new man, eventually the man began to do nothing but drag her down. This shows much of what really happens between most men and women. As Janie scrutinizes her many boyfriend/husbands, she begins to learn that all she really needs to thrive is to just be herself and follow God.
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