Full Title   Their Eyes Were Watching God

Author  Zora Neale Hurston

Type of Work  Novel

Genre  Bildungsroman (coming-of-age novel), American Southern spiritual journey

Language  English

Time and place written  Written in seven weeks during 1937 while Hurston was in Haiti

Date of first publication  September 1937

Publisher  J.B. Lippincott, Inc.

Narrator  The narrator is anonymous, though it is easy to detect a distinctly Southern sensibility in the narrator’s voice.

Point of view  Though the novel is narrated in the third person, by a narrator who reveals the characters’ thoughts and motives, most of the story is framed as Janie telling a story to Pheoby. The result is a narrator who is not exactly Janie but who is abstracted from her. Janie’s character resonates in the folksy language and metaphors that the narrator sometimes uses. Also, much of the text relishes in the immediacy of dialogue.

Tone  The narrator’s attitude toward Janie, which Hurston appears to share, is entirely sympathetic and affirming.

Tense  Past

Setting (time)  The early twentieth century, presumably the 1920s or 1930s

Setting (place)  Rural Florida

Protagonist  Janie

Major conflict  During her quest for spiritual fulfillment, Janie clashes with the values that others impose upon her.

Rising action  Janie’s jettisoning of the materialistic desires of Nanny, Logan, and Jody; her attempt to balance self-assertion with her love for Tea Cake; the hurricane—this progression pushes her toward the eventual conflict between her environment (including the people around her) and her need to understand herself

Climax  The confrontation between Janie and the insane Tea Cake in Chapter 19 marks the moment at which Janie asserts herself in the face of the most difficult obstacle she has had to face.

Falling action  Janie’s decision to shoot Tea Cake demonstrates that she has the strength to save herself even though it means killing the man she loves; the white women’s support of Janie points toward the importance of individuality as a means of breaking down stereotypes.

Themes  Language as a mechanism of control; power and conquest as a means to fulfillment; love and relationships versus independence; spiritual fulfillment; materialism

Motifs  Community, race and racism, the folklore quality of religion

Symbols  Janie’s hair, the pear tree, the horizon, the hurricane

Foreshadowing  In Chapter 1, we learn that Janie has been away from her town for a long time and that she ran off with a younger man named Tea Cake; Janie then tells Pheoby that Tea Cake is “gone.” The entire beginning, then, foreshadows the culmination of Janie’s journey.