To What Extent Is Hurston’s Use of Local Color Essential to the Success of the Storyline?

Topics: Zora Neale Hurston, African American, Black people Pages: 3 (822 words) Published: January 13, 2013
Role of Local Color in Zora Neale Hurston’s Novel
Their Eyes Were Watching God

As a native of Eatonville, Florida; and an anthropologist-folklorist, Zora Neale Hurston had an intimate, profound understanding of the South Florida locale of Their Eyes Were Watching God. Using her vast knowledge of the cultural expectations, practices and customs of the black community of the region, Hurston was able to create a vividly lifelike atmosphere in this novel- a rich environment steeped in folk traditions and superstitions; known as the local color of the area. This background was crucial to the development of both plot and cast, namely the protagonist, Janie.

The various communities Janie resides in are quite essential to her growth as a character. Throughout the novella, she sought to find her own voice: for the majority of the novella, however, she identified herself by what others thought of her, especially her husbands. For example, when faced with a death sentence at Tea Cake’s murder trial, “…She was in the courthouse fighting something, and it wasn’t death. It was worse than that. It was lying thoughts” (Hurston 187). Janie fears not death, but misunderstanding- she would rather perish than have her peers misjudge her. By the end of the opus, per contra, she became far more autonomous, minding not what others thought; but what she felt in her soul to be true and just. She complains of the town gossips, the “porch-sitters”, “Dem meatskins is got tuh rattle tuh make sure they’s alive” (Hurston 192).

The societal norms of her ambient surroundings likewise influence Janie’s metamorphosis. In her birthplace of West Florida, she grew up in a relatively egalitarian environment- she discovered her black heritage by seeing herself in a photograph; not by a discord with racial prejudice or stereotyping. This sparked a lifelong identity crisis, a lifelong search for a place to belong. Her orthodox grandmother, Nanny, could not further Janie in this quest, either....
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