Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), is the most recognized work of Zora Neale Hurston (January 1891 – January 1960), writer, anthropologist and Afro-American folklorist of the Harlem Renaissance. The novel was written in Haiti, during a study of folklore for an anthropological investigation.

Their eyes were watching god themes by Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston is one of the pioneering black writers in the United States; is considered one of the great anthropologists and folklorists of the twentieth century, and one of the most important figures of the Harlem Renaissance. His literary work, widely recognized today, was not appreciated while he was alive, and died in poverty. “Their Eyes Were Watching God” (His eyes looked at God, 1937), is his best known work.

Studies at Barnard College with anthropologists such as Franz Boas and Gladys Reichard and the literary activity of the great African-American poets of the time led Zora to appreciate the African-American tradition and dedicate herself to the study of black folklore. Armed with a gun to defend herself against possible attacks by the Ku Klux Klan, Zora toured the southern roads collecting oral narratives of African-American culture.

Zora Neale Hurston died of a heart attack in Fort Pierce, Florida, on January 28, 1960 and was buried in an unmarked grave. His legacy was recovered in the seventies by a generation of black writers, led by Alice Walker, who promoted the publication of unpublished writings or the reissue of old works.

Their eyes were watching god essay: background of the work

In 1936, Zora Neale Hurston obtained a Guggenheim Research Scholarship to study the practice of Obeah (Voodoo, Santeria) in the English Caribbean. For this reason she travels to Jamaica and Haiti, where she writes Her Eyes Were Watching God, finding in this rural folklore environment, the inspiration and energy to recover from a failed relationship with a man younger than her, whom she left behind to continue with your research.

Their eyes were watching god symbols and argument

Janie Crawford, main character and narrator of this work, is a forty-year-old woman, African-American, who tells the story of her life and her travels through flashbacks, to a friend. The stages of his life are divided according to his three marriages.

Nanny, Janie’s grandmother, was a slave who became pregnant with a white man and gave birth to a girl. This girl was raped during her adolescence and from there Janie was born growing up with her grandmother. The mother is not present in the novel.

Nanny tries to avoid that her granddaughter ends up wasting her life on any man, so she arranges a marriage with a bigger farmer, who looks for a wife to maintain the house and the farm. The marriage ends up being a failure because Janie does not feel love for that man, who has married her for convenience and who hits her and forces her to work on the farm. For this reason he runs away with Joe Starks, with whom he settles in Eatonville.

Arriving at Eatonville, the husband begins to organize the economy of the city, proclaims himself mayor, buys more land, and hires neighbors to build a store. The changes that this brings to his personality cause Janie to distance herself, feeling that she has become a “trophy woman”. Sometime later Starks died, leaving Janie with her assets, financially independent, and center of attention for future suitors. Of all those suitors, Janie falls in love with a player, Tea Cake, with whom he marches to Jacksonville after selling the store and the land.

Janie finally finds love in the marriage she had so sought. With Tea Cake, they move to the Everglades that suffer a hurricane, and although both survive, a rabid dog bites Teacake. The rage is contagious and little by little he goes crazy, to the point where he tries to kill Janie with a gun, but she shoots him in self-defense and is accused of murder.

The jury, made up of white men, declares her innocent, despite the opposition of the men of color, friends of Tea Cake. After this, Janie is reconciled with the African-American community of Everglades, who asks her to stay, but she decides to return to Eatonville, where criticism and rumors await her.

Most important reviews: their eyes were watching god analysis

This book, in its first edition, was not valued by the contemporaries of the author, although today the work appears in the lists of the most read about African-American literature in the United States.

His representation of the phonetic accents of African-American communities in the United States and the Caribbean during the early 20th century was especially criticized, for example, using “tuh” instead of “to” and “Ah” instead of “I”).

The writer Richard Wright said that His eyes were looking at God was a “juglares spectacle that made whites laugh” and that he showed “no desire to move in the direction of serious prose” and Ralph Ellison was of the opinion that book was “plagued with a calculated burlesque”.

Many other prominent authors of the Harlem Renaissance were annoyed that Zora Hurston showed the divisions between those African-Americans with lighter skin and those with darker skin, as in the case of Mrs. Turner, as well as the more subtle differences between man and woman.

The book, written in the vernacular of the African-American south, also attracted criticism from those who believe that Zora characterizes African-Americans as ignorant (although she was also African-American).

Their eyes were watching god summary: some evaluations about the work

Zora in his novel not only denounces the racism of whites but criticizes power relations in the African-American culture, in which the woman plays the role of scapegoating the frustrations of the man of color. Janie the protagonist, young woman, daring, cheerful, advised by her ex-slave grandmother, she is espoused by an older man to see the hopes of her predecessor fulfilled, to sit on the porch of her house to talk as her white masters did.

Her first husband, educated according to the masculinist hierarchy, destroys Janie’s illusion of marriage: “I want my marriage to be a sweet thing, like when you sit under a pear tree and you think … Ah!”, besides being deprived of its own space: “You do not have any particular site, your site is where I need you”. However, Tea Cake represents an encouraging rewrite of masculinity (…) is an alternative of a new man that invites reflection and the possibility of change.