Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God

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Essay 1
October 2012

The Power of Several Ideas

Often times when readers pick up a novel they hope to take away from it some type of overall meaning or unifying message which drives the story forward. Traditional novels such as Richard Wright's Native Son or Herman Melville's Moby Dick have overarching themes: the struggle against oppression in Wright's work and the classic conflict of good versus evil in Melville's piece. Both of these novels have cohesive narratives which continually reference these themes, and readers can easily identify the intent of the authors through plot and character development. Zora Neale Hurston's novel Their Eyes Were Watching God on the other hand does not have one unifying theme which drives the novel, rather it deals with many concepts such as gender roles and social mobility which propel the novel forward. The famed writer Richard Wright wrote a critique of Hurston's novel titled “Between Laughter and Tears” claiming that the novel had “no theme, no message and no thought”, Wright is correct in some ways about the novel lacking one single identifiable message. Rather the work as whole encompasses several topics and can be interpreted in different lights- this ends up being one of the work’s principle strengths. Zora Hurston's novel Their Eyes Were Watching God tells the story of Janie Crawford, a young woman on the quest to find love, a sense of personal identity and purpose in the world. Janie's journey begins when her grandmother finds her flirting with a young man in her front yard. After chastising Janie for wasting her beauty on such a 'low class gent', her grandmother abruptly organizes her marriage to a prominent community figure Logan Killicks. In her first marriage Janie gained economic stability but was unhappy, claiming that “she knew that marriage did not make love”(Hurston 25). When her stifling relationship with Logan became too much to bear Janie left him for an up-and-coming social climber named Joe Starks. Her second marriage began with good intentions and propelled Janie higher up the social hierarchy, her husband became the mayor of a small town and the pair accumulated lots of wealth. Despite her high social standing Janie again found herself in a loveless, stifling relationship. She realizes that “most humans don't love one another nohow, and this mislove was so strong that even common blood couldn't overcome it...”(90).This explains why she stays with Joe for twenty loveless years. After the death of Joe Starks, Janie meets Tea Cake. The pair travel to the Everglades to work in the fields alongside other migrant workers. Despite moving to a lower class in society Janie finally is able to feel happy and in love with her partner, she lives in a lively community and enjoys life in the Everglades with the migrant workers. In Wright's critique he argues that Hurston's novel doesn't reach beyond the “negro folk in their pure simplicity”. This is clearly not the case, we see Hurston develop ideas which encompass all of society and apply to both whites and blacks in the community. First and foremost she comments on the idea of social class, which becomes closely tied to the possession of material wealth. The text takes the reverse role of the traditional stereotype that wealth will bring happiness and stability to life, and widens the scope to apply to all social classes. This is in direct contradiction to Wright's assertion that the novel doesn't reach out from the traditional roles of African Americans at the time. Janie is forced to marry her first husband at her grandmother's insistence because Nanny believes that social status and worldly goods will bring happiness, Logan Kallick “Got a house bought and paid for and sixty aces right on da big road” (23). Nanny believes that this material stability and high social class is all that Janie needs to be happy claiming that “dis love”(23). When Janie finds her loveless, albet economically fruitful marriage unsatisfying...
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