Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, shows the development of an African-American woman living in the 1920s and 1930s as she searches for her true identity. Janie was a half-white, half-black girl growing up in Florida in the early 1930's, living with her grandmother, struggling to find her place in life. Janie’s transformation throughout the book shows a change through language and the development of Janie’s voice through the different stages of her life. Their Eyes Were Watching God is a narrative about one woman’s quest to free herself from repression and explore her own identity; this is the story of Janie Crawford and her journey for self-knowledge and fulfillment. Hurston’s narrative focuses on the emergence of a female self in a male-dominated world, she tells her magnificent story of romantic love against the background of church and extra church modes of expression. Understanding this fact helps to explain those sections of the narrative that have been said to have no meaning beyond their entertainment value (Hemenway 218).
Janie’s life is like a sermon waiting to be told to the African-American women, Nanny states this in the beginning of the novel. “Ah wanted to preach a great sermon about colored women sittin’ on high, but they wasn’t no pulpit for me. Freedom found me wid a baby daughter in mah arms, so Ah said Ah’d take a broom and a crook-pot and throw up a highway through de wilderness for her. She would expound what Ah felt. But somehow she got lost offa de highway and next thing Ah knowed here you was in the world. So whilst Ah was tendin’ you of nights Ah said Ah’d save de text for you (16).
Janie transforms many times as she undergoes the process of self-discovery as she changes through her experiences with three different men. Through her marriages with Logan, Joe, and then Tea Cake she figures out who she is and what she wants in life. Every one of her marriages has a different outcome on her capability of finding that voice. Finding her voice was a very difficult thing for Janie Crawford to do. She had spent the majority of her life finding her own voice and this path was not easy for her to do, however, it takes a lot of determination to speak up.
Deborah Clarke says, “Janie seeks for a voice which can picture, which can make you see,” and suggests that Zora Neale Hurston, the author, is more interested in a voice that uses visual imagery to redefine African-American rhetoric, than the presentation of one woman’s journey toward self-awareness (599,611). The power of Hurston in Their Eyes Were Watching God centers on her ability to fix extant cultural values in language and in the work of art. Like the preacher, Hurston’s artistic gift “consists in discovering the not-yet-discovered subsistent values and meanings that make up [her text] object in the creative act which is the relation of that object in and through language (Vivas 1073-74; Fontenot 38-41). Their Eyes Were Watching God brings the meanings and values of the culture to its participants’ attention.
Janie's early life begins with her living with her grandmother, Nanny. Janie’s mother had left when she was young because her mother was ashamed of having her at a young age. Nanny and Janie were pretty well off and had the privilege to live in the yard of white folks. While Janie was growing up she played with the white children. During this stage of her life, she was faced with disapproval from others and was called numerous names, so many that everyone started calling her alphabet, "'cause so many people had done named me different names." She then started putting together what she knew of her eccentric identity. One day she saw herself in a photograph and noticed that she looked unlike everyone else and that she had dark skin, and she said, "before Ah seen de picture Ah thought Ah wuz just like de rest." From that point in her life, Janie fell into a downward spiral, setting her on the way to discover her own identity...
Cited: Clarke, Deborah. "`The Porch Couldn 't Talk for Looking ': Voice and Vision in `Their Eyes Were
Watching God. '" African American Review. 2001.
Fontenot, Chester J., Jr., Rev. d The Craft of Ralph Ellison, by Robert G. O’Meally. Black-American Literature Forum 15.2 (1981). 79-80.
Hemenway, Robert. Zora Neale Hurston: A Literary Biography. Urbana U of Illinois P, 1977.
Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. Harper: New York, 2006.
Racine, Maria J. "Voice and Interiority in Zora Neale Hurston 's `Their Eyes Were Watching God. '" African American Review. 1994.
Vivas, Eliseo. “The Object of the Poem” Critical Theory since Plato. Ed. Hazard Adams. New York: Harcourt, 1971. 1069-77.
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