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Their Eyes Were Watching God

Zora Neale Hurston
Main Ideas

Allusions

Main Ideas Allusions

Chapter 1

Religious

Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they 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. That is the life of men.

The Watcher is an allusion to a Bible story from Daniel 4:13–24, in which “a watcher and a holy one” appear to King Nebuchadnezzar in a dream, predicting the end of his power.

Religious

They passed nations through their mouths. They sat in judgment.

This is an allusion to Isaiah 52:15 in the Bible.

Religious

“Yeah. Sam say most of ʼem goes to church so they’ll be sure to rise in Judgment. Dat’s de day dat every secret is s’posed to be made known. They wants to be there and hear it all.”

This is an allusion to a Bible verse, Ecclesiastes 12:14.

Historical

“Ah been a delegate to de big ʼssociation of life. Yessuh! De Grand Lodge, de big convention of livin’ is just where Ah been dis year and a half y’all ain’t seen me.”

This is an allusion to the Freemasons and other secret societies, important institutions in African American community life.

Chapter 2

Religious

Janie saw her life like a great tree in leaf with the things suffered, things enjoyed, things done and undone. Dawn and doom was in the branches.

This is an allusion to Psalm 1:3 in the Bible.

Religious

So she went on thinking back to her young years and explaining them to her friend in soft, easy phrases while all around the house, the night time put on flesh and blackness.

This is an allusion to John 1:14 in the Bible.

Religious

In the air of the room were flies tumbling and singing, marrying and giving in marriage.

This is an allusion to a Bible verse, Matthew 24:38.

Religious

“Fact is Ah done been on mah knees to mah Maker many’s de time askin’ please—for Him not to make de burden too heavy for me to bear.”

This is an allusion to Psalm 38:4 and other biblical passages that speak of bearing the burdens of life.

Religious

“One mornin’ soon, now, de angel wid de sword is gointuh stop by here. De day and de hour is hid from me, but it won’t be long.”

This is an allusion to Matthew 25:13 and several other verses in the New Testament section of the Bible.

Religious

“Freedom found me wid a baby daughter in mah arms, so Ah said Ah’d take a broom and a cook-pot and throw up a highway through de wilderness for her.”

This is an allusion to Isaiah 40:3 in the Old Testament section of the Bible.

Religious

“Ah been waitin’ a long time, Janie, but nothin’ Ah been through ain’t too much if you just take a stand on high ground lak Ah dreamed.”

This is an allusion to the Christian hymn “Higher Ground” by Johnson Oatman Jr. (1856–1922).

Historical

“Dat mornin’ on de big plantation close to Savannah, a rider come in a gallop tellin’ ʼbout Sherman taking Atlanta. Marse Robert’s son had done been kilt at Chickamauga.”

This is an allusion to major events of the American Civil War: the Battle of Chickamauga, a Southern victory in September 1863, and the fall of Atlanta, a Northern victory in September 1864.

Historical

“The men was all in blue, and Ah heard people say Sherman was comin’ to meet de boats in Savannah, and all of us slaves were free.”

This is an allusion to an event during the American Civil War, General William Tecumseh Sherman’s march from Atlanta to Savannah, which took place in November and December 1864.

Historical

“But it was a long time after dat befo’ de Big Surrender at Richmond. Den de big bell ring in Atlanta and all de men in gray uniforms had to go to Moultrie, and bury their swords in de ground to show they was never to fight about slavery no mo’. So den we knowed we was free.”

This is an allusion to events of April 1865, at the end of the American Civil War: the surrender of Richmond, which was the capital of the Confederacy, and the surrender of the Confederacy in Georgia, Florida, and the Carolinas.

Religious

“Have some sympathy fuh me. Put me down easy, Janie, Ah’m a cracked plate.”

This is an allusion to a Bible verse, Psalm 31:12.

Chapter 3

Religious

She often spoke to falling seeds and said, “Ah hope you fall on soft ground,” because she had heard seeds saying that to each other as they passed.

This is an allusion to the biblical parable of the sower, recounted in Mark 4:3–32.

Chapter 4

Religious

Where would such a man be coming from and where was he going? He didn’t look her way nor no other way except straight ahead, so Janie ran to the pump and jerked the handle hard while she pumped. It made a loud noise and also made her heavy hair fall down. So he stopped and looked hard, and then he asked for a cool drink of water.

This is allusion to a story from the Bible that describes the meeting of Isaac and Rebecca at a well and is recounted in Genesis 24:11–28.

Historical/Political

Joe Starks was the name, yeah Joe Starks from in and through Georgy.

The name Joe Starks is an allusion to Joe Clarke, the mayor of Eatonville during Hurston’s childhood, and to Dr. J. D. Starke, a pioneer settler of Orange County, in which Eatonville is located.

Religious

“Ah wouldn’t let the sun go down on us single. Ah’m uh man wid principles.”

This is an allusion to a Bible verse, Ephesians 4:26.

Chapter 5

Historical/Political

“Some say West Maitland and some say Eatonville. Dat’s ʼcause Cap’n Eaton give us some land along wid Mr. Laurence. But Cap’n Eaton give de first piece.”

This is an allusion to Lawrence Lewis, a philanthropist from New York, and Josiah C. Eaton, a former captain in the Union Army, two white supporters of Eatonville.

Religious

“He kin be de king uh Jerusalem fuh all Ah keer.”

This is an allusion to the biblical king of Jerusalem, mentioned in chapters 10 and 12 of the Book of Joshua.

Religious

“Naw, you wuzn’t, Tony. Youse way outa jurisdiction. You can’t welcome uh man and his wife ʼthout you make comparison about Isaac and Rebecca at de well, else it don’t show de love between ʼem if you don’t.”

This is allusion to a story from the Bible that describes the meeting of Isaac and Rebecca at a well and is recounted in Genesis 24:11–28.

Religious

“Ah means tuh put mah hands tuh de plow heah, and strain every nerve tuh make dis our town de metropolis uh de state.”

This is an allusion to a verse from the Bible, Luke 9:62.

Religious

“And when Ah touch de match tuh dat lampwick let de light penetrate inside of yuh, and let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”

This is an allusion to “This Little Light of Mine,” a gospel song.

Religious

We’ll walk in de light, de beautiful light Come where the dew drops of mercy shine bright Shine all around us by day and by night Jesus, the light of the world.

This is an allusion to the Christian hymn “Jesus, the Light of the World” by George D. Elderkin (1845–1928).

Historical

And look at the way he painted it—a gloaty, sparkly white. The kind of promenading white that the houses of Bishop Whipple, W.B. Jackson and the Vanderpool’s wore.

This quote contains allusions to prominent white people near Eatonville, Florida, including Bishop Henry B. Whipple, the founder of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd; W. B. Jackson, a banker; and Isaac Vanderpool, one of the original owners of Eatonville’s land.

Chapter 6

Religious

He felt like rushing forth with the meat knife and chopping off the offending hand.

This is an allusion to a verse from the Bible, Mark 9:43.

Religious

He spoke of the joys of mule-heaven to which the dear brother had departed this valley of sorrow; the mule-angels flying around; the miles of green corn and cool water, a pasture of pure bran with a river of molasses running through it; and most glorious of all, No Matt Bonner with plow lines and halters to come in and corrupt. Up there, mule-angels would have people to ride on and from his place beside the glittering throne, the dear departed brother would look down into hell and see the devil plowing Matt Bonner all day long in a hell-hot sun and laying the raw-hide to his back.

This is an allusion to several Bible passages associated with the Christian afterlife, including Psalm 23, Matthew 6:19–20, Luke 16:20–25, and Revelation 20:4.

Historical/Pop Culture

“Dey got uh great big picture tellin’ how many gallons of dat Sinclair high-compression gas he drink at one time and how he’s more’n uh million years old.”

This is an allusion to the Sinclair Oil Corporation and its advertising mascot, a dinosaur.

Literary

“Nature and salt. Dat’s whut makes up strong man lak Big John de Conquer. He was uh man wid salt in him.”

This is an allusion to John the Conqueror, a hero of African American folktales.

Religious

“It must be uh recess in heben if St. Peter is lettin’ his angels out lak dis.”

This is an allusion to the Christian folk tradition that St. Peter controls the gates to heaven.

Chapter 7

Religious

She didn’t read books so she didn’t know that she was the world and the heavens boiled down to a drop. Man attempting to climb to painless heights from his dung hill.

This is an allusion to a verse from the Bible, 1 Samuel 2:8.

Religious

“I god amighty! A woman stay round uh store till she get old as Methusalem and still can’t cut a little think like a plug of tobacco!”

This is an allusion to Methuselah, the longest-lived person in the Bible, who, according to Genesis 5:27, lived for 969 years.

Religious/Pop Culture

“Great God from Zion!” Sam Watson gasped. “Y’all really playin’ de dozens tuhnight.”

This is an allusion to Zion, the city of Jerusalem that represents God’s presence in the Bible, and to the “dozens,” an African American game of trading humorous verbal insults.

Religious

Janie had robbed him of his illusion of irresistible maleness that all men cherish, which was terrible. The thing that Saul’s daughter had done to David.

This is an allusion to an incident from the Bible, recounted in 2 Samuel 6:20.

Chapter 8

Religious

“It ain’t always been too pleasant, ʼcause you know how Joe worships de works of his own hands, but God in heben knows Ah wouldn’t do one thing tuh hurt nobody.”

This is an allusion to a verse from the Bible, Isaiah 2:8.

Chapter 9

Religious/Historical

Then again the gold and red and purple, the gloat and glamor of the secret orders, each with its insinuations of power and glory undreamed of by the uninitiated.

This is an allusion to the Masons and other secret societies as well as a verse from the Bible, Mark 13:26.

Historical/Political

The Little Emperor of the cross-roads was leaving Orange County as he had come—with the out-stretched hand of power.

This is an allusion to the first emperor of France, Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821), whose nickname was the Little Emperor.

Chapter 11

Religious

“Can’t no ole man stop me from gittin’ no ship for yuh if dat’s what you want. Ah’d git dat ship out from under him so slick till he’d be walkin’ de water lak ole Peter befo’ he knowed it.”

This is an allusion to a Bible story from Matthew 14:28–31.

Religious

“Ah’m de Apostle Paul tuh de Gentiles. Ah tells ʼem and then agin Ah shows ʼem.”

This is an allusion to a biblical passage, Romans 11:13, in which Paul, one of the first teachers of the gospel of Jesus, calls himself “the apostle to the Gentiles,” meaning people who were not Jews.

Religious

At the newel post Janie whirled around and for the space of a thought she was lit up like a transfiguration.

This is an allusion to a biblical event, the transfiguration of Christ, which is recounted in Matthew 17:2, Mark 9:2–3, and Luke 9:28–36.

Pop Culture

“Bet he’s hangin’ round some jook or ʼnother. Glad Ah treated him cold.”

The term jook, meaning a roadside bar or nightclub, is an allusion to a jukebox, a machine for playing records that was usually found in such places.

Literary

After a long time of passive happiness, she got up and opened the window and let Tea Cake leap forth and mount to the sky on a wind.

This is an allusion to African American folktales about people who could fly, some of which Hurston collected while working as an anthropologist.

Religious

He did not return that night nor the next and so she plunged into the abyss and descended to the ninth darkness where light has never been.

This is an allusion to a biblical story, recounted in Exodus 10:21–23, in which darkness becomes the ninth plague with which the Lord strikes Egypt.

Religious/Literary

“Nobody else on earth kin hold uh candle tuh you, baby. You got de keys to de kingdom.”

This is an allusion to not only a Bible verse, Matthew 16:19, but also African American folktales in which women gain power over their husbands by holding the keys to the kitchen, the bedroom, and the cradle.

Chapter 12

Pop Culture

“Some of dese mornin’s and it won’t be long, you gointuh wake up callin’ me and Ah’ll be gone.”

This is an allusion to lines from the popular blues song “Some of These Mornings,” recorded in the late 1920s by Sara Martin (1884–1955).

Chapter 13

Religious

All she found out was that she was too old a vessel for new wine.

This is an allusion to the words of Jesus Christ, recorded in the Bible in Matthew 9:17, Mark 2:22, and Luke 5:37.

Religious

Then whoever it was started to singing “Ring de bells of mercy. Call de sinner man home.”

This is an allusion to the Christian hymn “Ring the Bells of Heaven” by William Orcutt Cushing (1823–1902).

Religious

So her soul crawled out from its hiding place.

This is an allusion to the biblical image of God as a hiding place, expressed in Psalm 32:7 and other passages.

Chapter 14

Religious

Ed turned off the card and hollered, “Zachariah, Ah says come down out dat sycamore tree. You can’t do no business.”

This is an allusion to the biblical story of Jesus and Zacchaeus, recounted in Luke 19:1–10.

Chapter 16

Pop Culture

For instance during the summer when she heard the subtle but compelling rhythms of the Bahaman drummers, she’d walk over and watch the dances. She did not laugh the “Saws” to scorn as she had heard the people doing in the season.

This is an allusion to migrant workers from the islands of the Bahamas and to their nickname, “Saws,” which alludes to the musical saws used in Caribbean music.

Religious

Once having set up her idols and built altars to them it was inevitable that she would worship there.

This is an allusion to a Bible verse, Ezekiel 14:3.

Religious

Through indiscriminate suffering men know fear and fear is the most divine emotion. It is the stones for altars and the beginning of wisdom.

This is an allusion to the biblical statement “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” which appears in Psalm 111:10 and Proverbs 9:10.

Religious

Her god would smite her, would hurl her from pinnacles and lose her in deserts, but she would not forsake his altars.

This is an allusion to biblical punishments of the wicked as well as to Joshua 24:16 and similar verses that command obedience to the Lord.

Religious

Behind her crude words was a belief that somehow she and others through worship could attain her paradise—a heaven of straighthaired, thin-lipped, high-nose boned white seraphs.

This is an allusion to the seraphim, angelic beings that appear in the Bible in Isaiah 6:2.

Religious

It was distressing to emerge from her inner temple and find these black desecrators howling with laughter before the door.

This is an allusion to the holiest part of the Temple of Jerusalem, described in the Bible in Ezekiel 41:15 and other passages.

Chapter 17

Religious

The way he petted and pampered her as if those two or three face slaps had nearly killed her made the women see visions and the helpless way she hung on him made men dream dreams.

This is an allusion to a prophecy from the Bible, recorded in Joel 2:28.

Chapter 18

Literary

A thousand buzzards held a flying meet and then went above the clouds and stayed.

This is an allusion to African American folktales about conventions of animals, some of which were recorded by Hurston when she worked as an anthropologist.

Literary

“If Ah never see you no mo’ on earth, Ah’ll meet you in Africa.”

This is an allusion to African American folktales about people’s souls flying to Africa after death, some of which were recorded by Hurston when she worked as an anthropologist.

Literary

Most of the great flame-throwers were there and naturally, handling Big John de Conquer and his works. How he had done everything big on earth, then went up tuh heben without dying atall. Went up there picking a guitar and got all de angels doing the ring-shout round and round de throne. Then everybody but God and Old Peter flew off on a flying race to Jericho and back and John de Conquer won the race; went on down to hell, beat the old devil and passed out ice water to everybody down there.

This is an allusion to African American folktales about the hero John the Conqueror, which contained many details borrowed from Bible stories.

Religious

By morning Gabriel was playing the deep tones in the center of the drum.

This is an allusion to Gabriel, an angelic being who appears in the Bible in Luke 1:19.

Religious

But the storm blew itself out as they approached the city of refuge.

This is an allusion to the biblical cities of refuge, described in Numbers 35:11–14.

Chapter 19

Religious

His pale white horse had galloped over waters, and thundered over land. The time of dying was over. It was time to bury the dead.

This is an allusion to a verse from the Bible, Revelation 6:8.

Historical/Political

“They’s mighty particular how dese dead folks goes tuh judgment,” Tea Cake observed to the man working next to him. “Look lak dey think God don’t know nothin’ ʼbout de Jim Crow law.”

This is an allusion to segregationist laws, called Jim Crow laws after a racist stereotyped character, that prevailed after the American Civil War, especially in the former Confederate states.

Literary

“Maybe it wuz a witch ridin’ yuh, honey.”

This is an allusion to African American folktales in which sicknesses are caused by witchcraft.

Religious

Tea Cake, the son of Evening Sun, had to die for loving her.

This is an allusion to a Bible verse, John 3:16, creating a direct parallel between Tea Cake and Christ.

Religious

Then the grief of outer darkness descended.

This is an allusion to a Bible verse, Matthew 8:12.