Their Eyes Were Watching God

Better Essays
Positive Light on a Negative Image; a Review of the Average Black Man in Their Eyes Were Watching God

Despite being her most well-known work, Zora Neale Hurston’s novel Their Eyes Were Watching God is quite often ill-received by critics, especially black critics; Richard Wright and Alain Locke, two black literary critics, both gave negative reviews of the novel in 1937. This negative feedback is most likely due to Hurston’s anthropological attention to everyday black life of the time—exemplified through her use of folk-lore motifs, dialect, and other traditional facets of lower class black culture. In spite of the negative feedback it generated, it seems that Hurston’s intent for her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God was to shed a positive light on the average black man.
Richard Wright, who reviewed Their Eyes Were Watching God in the American Marxist publication New Masses, seems to base his critique predominantly on the issue of Zora Neale Hurston’s focus on lower class black people as opposed to recognized proactive leaders. Hurston did a great deal of anthropological research in order to stay true to the dialogue and overall spirit of black people of that time. Wright claims that Hurston “voluntarily continues in her novel the tradition which was forced upon the Negro in the theatre, that is, the minstrel technique that makes the “white folks” laugh”. In a 1990 review of the novel, Henry Louis Gates said that Hurston wanted to write a “black novel”. (Their Eyes Were Watching God) If she had taken her characters out of the so called “safe and narrow orbit in which America likes to see Negroes”, than she would be straying from the truth of the historical content. To the reader, it does not seem that Hurston’s intention was to put black people on any kind of pedestal, but to draw attention to the actual culture and way of life of the common people.
In his review, Wright also claims that Hurston is “exploiting the phase of Negro life which is ‘quaint,’



Cited: 1. Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God: A Novel. New York: Perennial Library, 1990. Print. 2. "Their Eyes Were Watching God." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 05 Mar. 2013. Web. 04 May 2013.

You May Also Find These Documents Helpful

  • Better Essays

    Their Eyes Were Watching God

    • 3166 Words
    • 13 Pages

    Reading Guide Preview Their Eyes Were Watching God Zora Neale Hurston About the Author Although Zora Neale Hurston (1891–1960) died penniless and was buried in an unmarked grave in a racially segregated cemetery, she had a remarkable career as a novelist. She was also a pioneer in documenting African American culture. Hurston grew up in Eatonville, Florida, a fully incorporated African American township, and studied at Howard University. In 1925, she moved to New York City, where she became an influential talent of the Harlem Renaissance, the blossoming of African American literature and art. While attending Barnard College, she met the famous anthropologist Franz Boaz, who convinced her to study the folklore of African Americans in the South. Her first collection of African American folk tales, Mules and Men, was published in 1935. Her second collection, Tell My Horse, published in 1938, also contained descriptions of African American cultural beliefs and rituals brought from Africa. Hurston achieved critical and popular success with her novels Jonah’s Gourd (1934), Their Eyes Were Watching God(1937), and Moses, Man of the Mountain (1939). She also wrote a prizewinning autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road (1942), as well as short stories and plays. When Hurston died in 1960, all her works were out of print. In the 1970s, African American author Alice Walker revived interest in Hurston, helping to restore her reputation. Background Their Eyes Were Watching God is set in Florida during the 1930s. Although the story is fictional, the town of Eatonville, built and governed by African Americans, is real. At the end of the Civil War, blacks settled near the town of Maitland. In 1882, the black businessman Joseph C. Clarke bought a large tract of land, subdivided it, and sold lots to black families. In 1887, blacks incorporated the area as an independent town called Eatonville, Hurston’s childhood home. Quick Guide As you read Their Eyes Were Watching God, keep…

    • 3166 Words
    • 13 Pages
    Better Essays
  • Good Essays

    Zora Neale Hurston's, Their Eyes Were Watching God is the story of repression and possession by men over women in black Southern communities. Black men in the South seemed to regard women as property. They were the masters of the household and women were portrayed as the slaves in the relationship, quite ironic considering the history of slavery during that time. Their Eyes Were Watching God is Janie's story of awakening from this oppression into her own self-awareness and personal identity. Janie's path to awakening must take her through the wasteland of being a possession before she can enter the pear tree garden of her self-actualized dreams of love.…

    • 523 Words
    • 3 Pages
    Good Essays
  • Better Essays

    Zora Neale Hurston’s novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, focuses on Janie Crawford’s journey of discovering her self value. In addition, Hurston explores and exposes the physical and emotional pain African American women endured.She has overcome the traditional roles of a woman by the end of the novel. Overall throughout her marriages, Janie experiences the hardships that most African American women went through at the time. From the physical labor to the physical beatings, Janie was presented with the life that a woman was expected to live. Furthermore, the author utilizes her female characters to reveal the theme of feminism. On the other hand, Hurston exhibits the theme of gender roles through her male…

    • 1149 Words
    • 5 Pages
    Better Essays
  • Good Essays

    Hurston’s novel was initially met with mixed reviews. While many lauded the book for its rich prose and complex characters, others, particularly her own Afro-American contemporaries, derided it, criticizing its lack of political commentary and her use of common vernacular. Fellow scholar and playwright Richard Wright gave a notably harsh review, claiming that the novels carries “no theme, no message, no thought,” then comparing the book to a minstrel show meant to appease the white audience. According to Wright, Hurston’s characters carry no political weight and instead “swing like a pendulum” in a “safe… orbit… between laughter and tears.” In her own lifetime, Hurston’s novels never sold well, and Their Eyes were Watching God, while noted by many initially for the story’s “warm, vibrant touch,” the public never took much interest in the book. When…

    • 640 Words
    • 3 Pages
    Good Essays
  • Good Essays

    The female view in Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes were Watching God suggests a changing sense of attitudes in American culture in many ways. Firstly, the story is told in third-person point of view from Janie, the main character’s, perspective through her narration to her friend Phoeby. She’s not only a woman, but African-American. The story is about Janie’s trials and tribulations in her life, including her three marriages. The novel is a celebration of African-American characters and is formulated around its female point of view. It showed a change in the attitude in American culture because of the way it portrays its characters. Hurston gives context as to why the major characters do what they do. Janie is searching for both love yet independence, Logan was looking for a wife, Joe wanted to be powerful, and Tea Cake’s need to travel. All in all, these characters help project Janie’s growth into finding herself by the end of the novel. It shows a change of attitude because of how all these characters help Janie develop as a character. It shows a in-depth story of a woman who faces many trying times but overcomes them in the…

    • 1392 Words
    • 6 Pages
    Good Essays
  • Powerful Essays

    Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God is the story of one black woman’s attempt to realize her dreams and to achieve happiness in her life. Throughout the book, the reader follows Janie Woods as she travels from one man to the next and from one town to the next in search of happiness, freedom, and love. Janie abandons her first husband and the oppressive, conventional life that she lives with him in order to pursue a more stimulating, adventurous, and exciting one with Jody Sparks. With his big dreams for the future and his plans to build an “all-colored” town, Jody seems at first to…

    • 1762 Words
    • 7 Pages
    Powerful Essays
  • Good Essays

    Zora Neale Hurston

    • 824 Words
    • 4 Pages

    “Their Eyes Were Watching God is widely acclaimed as the best novel by Zora Neale Hurston, and a classic of Afro-American…

    • 824 Words
    • 4 Pages
    Good Essays
  • Good Essays

    Zora Neale Hurston's "Their Eyes Were Watching God" Research Paper "I am Me, My Eyes Toward God" Mark Evans Zora Neale Hurston an early twentieth century Afro-American feminist author, was raised in a predominately black community which gave her an unique perspective on race relations, evident in her novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God. Hurston drew on her on experiences as a feminist Afro-American female to create a story about the magical transformation of Janie, from a young unconfident girl to a thriving woman. Janie experiences many things that make her a compelling character who takes readers along as her companion, on her voyage to discover the mysteries and rewards life has to offer. Zora Neale Hurston was, the daughter of a Baptist minister and an educated scholar who still believed in the genius contained within the common southern black vernacular(Hook http://splavc.spjc.cc.fl.us/hooks/Zora.html). She was a woman who found her place, though unstable, in a typical male profession. Hurston was born on January 7, 1891 in Eatonville, Florida, the first all-incorporated black town in America. She found a special thing in this town, where she said, "... [I] grew like a like a gourd and yelled bass like a gator," (Gale, 1). When Hurston was thirteen she was removed from school and sent to care for her brother's children. She became a member of a traveling theater at the age of sixteen, and then found herself working as a maid for a white woman. This woman saw a spark that was waiting for fuel, so she arranged for Hurston to attend high school in Baltimore. She also attended Morgan Academy, now called Morgan State University, from which she graduated in June of 1918. She then enrolled in the Howard Prep School followed by later enrollment in Howard University. In 1928 Hurston attended Barnard College where she studied anthropology under Franz Boas. After she graduated, Zora returned to Eatonville to begin work on anthropology. Four years after Hurston received…

    • 3226 Words
    • 13 Pages
    Good Essays
  • Better Essays

    After the Civil War between the North and South, Reconstruction took place in the Union. Slavery was abolished and blacks started to gain freedoms. The 14th amendment gave blacks rights and referred to them as American citizens, and the 15th gave them the right to vote. However, even with these changes Africans Americans were still discriminated against and blamed for the Union’s issues. Racist groups started to emerge, pushing people to victimize the blacks even more. The white society looked down upon the blacks and treated them with disrespect as they were still separate but equal. Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes were Watching God depicts the story of a third century freed slave, Janie, and her fight against this prejudice world. Hurston’s…

    • 1099 Words
    • 5 Pages
    Better Essays
  • Good Essays

    In post-Reconstruction society, women, especially women of color, were seen as subordinate, further perpetuated by a misogynic and patriarchal society. Hurston’s novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, eloquently captures this attitude by drawing a parallel between the treatment of black women and mules. Nanny, Janie’s grandmother, during a discord of marriage with Janie, stated that “de nigger women is du mule uh de world,” as a testament to her subdued perception on the subjects of marriage, race, and gender roles resulting from her background in slavery. The mule served as a symbol of abuse, and oppression, even though being a vital backbone to society, completing monotonous, and labor intensive work. Likewise, black women were treated with…

    • 181 Words
    • 1 Page
    Good Essays
  • Satisfactory Essays

    Hurston knew herself, that she is an individual. She is an inspiration to American readers and became known as a huge influential figure in the history of African-American literature. Reading her work today has a large impact on the reader to show how hard it was to be a successful African-American, and live through segregation. Although she ended her life with little money, she now is honored through our studies and awe in her…

    • 292 Words
    • 2 Pages
    Satisfactory Essays
  • Good Essays

    After moving to New York City, Hurston met the minds of Langston Hughes and Countee Culle as well as many other creative minds at the time. Her first publication was in a literary magazine, and she had several successes in short story and playwriting contests by Opportunity magazine. Hurston’s works have often been proven to be invaluable resources for African Americans of her time. Her most famous work, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston writes about a girl named Janie and her journey as she becomes a proud, independent woman. Taking place between the 1920s and 1930s of rural Florida, the story displays racism and the undermining of women as well as allusions to the bible. Transforming from a young girl to a woman, Janie’s quest for spiritual fulfillment clashes with the values that are imposed on her, she finds the power of voice. In voice, she is able to conquer those who use their own voice to control her. Through her journey, Janie undergoes changes ultimately becoming a hero. In the novel, Their Eyes Were Watching, Janie exhibits the heroic qualities of endurance, determination, and…

    • 1116 Words
    • 5 Pages
    Good Essays
  • Powerful Essays

    Obviously, Hurston’s two earlier books had already proved Hurston's particular interest in black folk culture. In 1937, Hurston wrote her most influential work Their Eyes Were Watching God…

    • 6166 Words
    • 25 Pages
    Powerful Essays
  • Good Essays

    Hurston’s novel is about an African-American who is trying to find her true identity and a real passion. Throughout the novel, Janie Crawford, the main character finds herself…

    • 326 Words
    • 2 Pages
    Good Essays
  • Powerful Essays

    Before Zora Neale Hurston received praise by Alice Walker in her “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston” article, very little was known about the works of this African American author. In 1937, Hurston wrote and published her most famous novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, a story about the hardships of Janie Crawford as she matures and discovers new horizons. During a time when racial strains in the United States were rising and the Harlem Renaissance motivated blacks to honor their culture, Their Eyes Were Watching God was not well-greeted in the black community and subsequently was put among other amateur pieces of literature throughout the years. Although…

    • 1303 Words
    • 6 Pages
    Powerful Essays