“Their Eyes Were Watching God:
Novel and Film Adaption Comparative Analysis”
Zora Neal Hurston’s most popular novel tells the story of an African-American woman who matures while experiencing emotional growth during her quest for a purposeful life and deep ache for love. In 2005, a film adaptation of Their Eyes Were Watching God was released, generating adverse affects on many. Even though the equally loved and criticized film stayed true to the plot, many agree that it fails to accurately represent events throughout the novel by omitting highly significant parts. Multiple aspects at the beginning of the film and novel are extremely different. The pair tree, which is highly symbolic in the novel, is only shown once in the film. Also, racial discrimination and the trial are neglected from the film. Not to mention, Janie states the title three times in the adaptation, even though the implication of the title is more accurately portrayed in the novel. Additionally, there are minor modifications, like the existence of certain characters and what Janie says to her second husband before his death. Despite the differences of the novel and film, Janie gains wisdom and experiences the true meaning of life and love through her many eye-opening circumstances.
Unlike the film, the novel gradually introduces us to Janie with background information about Janie’s early life and family. Janie explains, “Ah ain’t never seen mah 2
papa. And ah didn’t know him if ah did. Mah mama neither. She was gone from round dere long before Ah wuz big enough tuh know. Mah grandma raised me. Mah grandma and de white folks she worked wid. She had a house in de back-yard and dat’s where ah wuz born (Hurston, 8). This information Janie gives about her childhood is an indication that her grandmother was a former field slave. Without this suggestive information in the film, it is difficult to understand that Nanny’s reasoning for demanding Janie to marry Logan Killicks is to escape society’s financial affliction. Additionally, the symbol that Hurston uses to represent Janie’s life and journey is almost nonexistent in the film. The beautiful pear tree allows Janie to feel a sense of comfort, while acting as a realization for the love that she longs for. Unfortunately, the tree is only shown once at the beginning of the film.
Mrs. Turner’s absence in the film takes away a significant part from the novel. Her obsession with Janie and longing for her to marry her brother plays a pivotal role in Tea Cake’s death. Near the end of the novel when Tea Cake is sick, he accuses Janie of sneaking off to see Mrs. Turner’s brother. This accusation, along with Tea Cake’s sickness, is what brings him to try and shoot Janie. Sadly, her only choice is to shoot him first. Identically to the novel, Tea Cake tries to shoot Janie, though it has nothing to do with Mrs. Turner. Nunkie, a flirtatious woman who is always around Tea Cake, is another character that plays a role in the novel and not the film. Another modification includes Janie’s last words to her second husband, Mayor Joe Starks. Janie rationalizes with Joe, “Naw, Jody, Ah come in heah tuh talk widja and Ah’m goin tuh do it too. It’s for both of our sakes Ah’m talkin” (Hurston, 85). Considering he is on his deathbed, Janie tries to be 3
calm and show her condolences. Though in the film, she begins her conversation by telling him that before he dies he will hear what she has to say. Janie’s words are modified in the film, allowing her to be more upfront with him.
Racism is not the essential theme in Their Eyes Were Watching God, however Zora Neale Hurston does intertwine racism into the society in which Janie lives. Hurston is an author associated with the Harlem Renaissance; therefore, she probably wanted to depict an accurate reflection of the anti-discrimination that was so significant during the early 20th century. It is interesting that the racism, so...
Cited: Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York: J.B. Lippincott, 1937. 8-160. Print.
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