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
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.
setting (time) The early twentieth century, presumably the 1920s or 1930s
setting (place) Rural Florida
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.