The style of Their Eyes Were Watching God is primarily colloquial, with the bulk of the novel written in dialect meant to approximate how Southern Black Americans spoke to each other in the early 1900s. This vernacular is established in the very first line of dialogue, when Janie returns to Eatonville and one of her neighbors asks, “What she doin coming back here in dem overhalls?” The rest of the narrative includes long passages of uninterrupted dialogue, full of highly colloquial language, regional aphorisms (“Ah done cut a hawg”), and phonetic spellings instead of Standard English spellings. This style of dialogue works to establish an authentic setting and richly express the language of the South, a region Hurston knew well and wanted to capture in her novel.

Read more about the use of colloquial language in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

The narrator’s poetic and lofty style interrupts the colloquial dialogue in Their Eyes Were Watching God. The omniscient narrator’s prose is decidedly sophisticated in its use of figurative language, often describing Janie’s inner life with metaphors and similes (“Janie saw her life like a great tree in leaf...Dawn and doom was in the branches.”) The split style of the novel showcases two very different modes of storytelling, but does not elevate one above the other; the Southern vernacular is depicted as just as authentic and necessary as the narrator’s elevated descriptions, and both styles work together to create a feat of intimate storytelling.