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Their Eyes Were Watching God

Zora Neale Hurston

Study Questions & Essay Topics

Key Facts

Quiz

Study Questions

1.

Discuss the role of conversation in Their Eyes Were Watching God. In particular, discuss the effect of Hurston’s narrative technique of alternating between highly figurative narration and colloquial dialogue.

One of the most interesting aspects of Their Eyes Were Watching God is Hurston’s interweaving of Standard Written English on the part of the narrator and early twentieth-century Southern black vernacular speech on the part of her characters. The extended passages of dialogue celebrate the language of Southern blacks, presenting a type of authentic voice not often seen in literature. In addition to asserting the existence and richness of Southern black culture, Hurston’s use of dialogue articulates thematic concerns of the novel. For example, Hurston uses language to express the difference between Janie’s relationship with Tea Cake and her relationship with Jody. When Janie meets Jody, we do not hear her speak to him; instead, the narrator tells us, in Standard Written English, that they talk, giving us few of their actual words. Janie’s interactions with Tea Cake, on the other hand, are full of long passages of vernacular dialogue, a reflection of their genuine connection and mutual respect for each other. Throughout the novel, Janie struggles to find her own voice; Hurston demonstrates the importance of this quest with her use of dialogue as a narrative device.

2.

Explain the significance of the book’s title. How does it relate to Janie’s quest and the rest of the book?

One important feature of the title Their Eyes Were Watching God is that the first word is plural, which anticipates the issues of community and partnership with which the novel concerns itself. As much as the story is about one woman’s quest, it is also the story of how that quest is achieved both through and against community and partnership. The title is drawn from a moment in which three people act together against a threatening force—the hurricane, in Chapter 18—but soon afterward, Janie and Tea Cake split up with Motor Boat, and Janie is later forced to shoot Tea Cake. The “Their” in the title seems a fragile construct.

The novel’s concept of God, the other pregnant word in the title, is most clearly articulated when the narrator describes Mrs. Turner’s obsession with white features and social norms. Gods, the reader is told, require suffering, and this suffering is the beginning of wisdom. The lesson that the hurricane seems to offer is that God is all-powerful and will damn the proud like Tea Cake, who believes that his mastery of the muck will allow him to weather the hurricane. The novel’s overall tenor, however, is hardly one of awed submission and humility. Janie is focused on understanding herself, not God, and exhibits a high degree of autonomy in achieving this goal. Though external forces and circumstances may demand sacrifice and suffering, Janie herself still determines the course of her life.

3.

Why is Janie initially attracted to Jody? Why does this attraction fade?

Jody comes along at a transitional period in Janie’s life. She is still partially under the spell of her grandmother’s philosophy, prizing material wealth and status, but at the same time has begun to search for something greater. She is unsure what that something is but knows that it involves more than what she has with Logan Killicks. When Jody arrives, full of bluster and ambition, he reconciles Janie’s upbringing with her desire for adventure. His talk of power and conquest soothes Janie’s disenchantment while his ambitious social climbing satisfies the values that Nanny has imparted to her.

Janie’s interest in Jody ultimately wanes because she discovers that the role he wants her to fit offers her no fulfillment. She learns that there are two reasons that Jody will never help her achieve her dreams. First, Jody’s quest is for material and social gain. He wants wealth, power, and status. No accumulation of such things, however, will help Janie in her spiritual quest. Second, Jody defines himself through his control of others, especially through his silencing of Janie. Their marriage fails because Janie refuses to tolerate Jody’s inflated sense of himself any longer. His egotism, based on power over others, demands that he control and dominate Janie, which prevents her from exploring and expressing herself.

Suggested Essay Topics

1. In 1937, Richard Wright reviewed Their Eyes Were Watching God and wrote: “The sensory sweep of her 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.” In particular, Wright objected to the novel’s discussion of race and use of black dialect. Why might Wright have objected to Their Eyes Were Watching God? Do you agree or disagree with Wright’s interpretation of the novel?

2. Discuss the idea of the horizon in the Their Eyes Were Watching God. What does it symbolize for Janie?

3. Compare and contrast Janie’s three marriages. What initially pulls her to each of the three men? How do they differ from one another? What does she learn from each experience?

4. In her marriage to Jody, Janie is dominated by his power. At several points, however, it is obvious that he feels threatened by her. Why does Jody need to be in control of everyone around him? How does Janie threaten Jody and his sense of control?

5. Their Eyes Were Watching God is concerned with issues of speech and how speech is both a mechanism of control and a vehicle of liberation. Yet Janie remains silent during key moments in her life. Discuss the role of silence in the book and how that role changes throughout the novel.

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Dont read this book

by Mike_Halk, September 25, 2012

reading this book will send you into a deep depression because after you finish you will realize you spent hours translating this book into real english in your head and then you gained absolutely nothing from it.

12 Comments

436 out of 628 people found this helpful

Movie

by coco_woah, October 06, 2012

Theirs also a really good movie adaption of this book, we watched it in school. It's with Halle Berry as Jane Crawford.

4 Comments

21 out of 42 people found this helpful

tewwg

by chinchilla99999, January 29, 2013

abcdefg gummy bears are chasing me one is red one is blue one is trying to steal my shoe now im running 4 my life cuz the red one has a knife im running at full speed ahead but then i stop cuz i havent been fed i feel my energy bar depleting but then a turkey begins retreating he whines about his finga and then i prone walk since i havent unlocked ninja i barrel roll into the red teddy take his knife and get ready i stab his fluffeh gooey back and then prepare for the secret attack i drop it to the groung and get a predator missile to move a... Read more

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227 out of 338 people found this helpful

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