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Their Eyes Were Watching Godby Zora Neale Hurston
Synopses & Reviews
Under " a blossoming pear tree" in West Florida, sixteen-year-old Janie Mae Crawford dreams of a world that will answer all her questions and waits " for the world to be made." But her grandmother, who has raised her from birth, arranges Janie's marriage to an older local farmer. So begins Janie's journey toward herself and toward the farthest horizon open to her. Zora Neale Hurston's classic 1937 novel follows Janie from her Nanny's plantation shack, to Logan Killicks's farm, to all-black Eatonville, to the Everglades, and back to Eatonville--where she gathers in " the great fish-net" of her life. Janie's joyless marriage to Killicks lasts until Joe Starks passes by, on his way to becoming " a big voice." Joe becomes mayor of Eatonville and is just as determined as Killicks was to keep Janie in her proper place. Through twenty years with Joe, she continues to cope, hope, and dream; and after Joe's death, she is once again " ready for her great journey, " a journey she now undertakes with one Vergible Woods, a.k.a. Tea Cake. Younger than Janie, Tea Cake nevertheless engages both her heart and her spirit. With him Janie can finally enjoy life without being one man's mule or another's bauble. Their eventful life together " on de muck" of the Everglades eventually brings Janie to another of her life's turning points; and after burying Tea Cake, she returns to a gossip-filled Eatonville, where she tells her story to her best friend, Pheoby Watson, and releases Pheoby to tell that story to the others. Janie has " done been tuh de horizon and back." She has learned what love is; she has experienced life's joys andsorrows; and she has come home to herself in peace.
2. What is the importance of the concept of horizon? How do Janie and each of her men widen her horizons? What is the significance of the novel's final sentences in this regard?
3. How does Janie's journey--from West Florida, to Eatonville, to the Everglades--represent her, and the novel's increasing immersion in black culture and traditions? What elements of individual action and communal life characterize that immersion?
4. To what extent does Janie acquire her own voice and the ability to shape her own life? How are the two related? Does Janie's telling her story to Pheoby in flashback undermine her ability to tell her story directly in her own voice?
5. What are the differences between the language of the men and that of Janie and the other women? How do the differences in language reflect the two groups' approaches to life, power, relationships, and self-realization? How do the novel's first two paragraphs point to these differences?
6. In what ways does Janie conform to or diverge from the assumptions that underlie the men's attitudes toward women? How would you explain Hurston's depiction of violence toward women? Does the novel substantiate Janie's statement that " Sometimes God gits familiar wid us womenfolks too and talks His inside business" ?
7. What is the importance in the novel of the " signifyin'" and " playin' de dozens" on the front porch of Joe's store and elsewhere? What purpose do these stories, tradedinsults, exaggerations, and boasts have in the lives of these people? How does Janie counter them with her conjuring?
8. Why is adherence to received tradition so important to nearly all the people in Janie's world? How does the community deal with those who are " different" ?
9. After Joe Starks's funeral, Janie realizes that " She had been getting ready for her great journey to the horizons in search of people; it was important to all the world that she should find them and they find her." Why is this important " to all the world" ? In what ways does Janie's self-awareness depend on her increased awareness of others?
10. How important is Hurston's use of vernacular dialect to our understanding of Janie and the other characters and their way of life? What do speech patterns reveal about the quality of these lives and the nature of these communities? In what ways are " their tongues cocked and loaded, the only real weapon" of these people?
Author Bio: In her award-winning autobiography, "Dust Tracks on a Road (1942), Zora Neale Hurston claimed to have been born in Eatonville, Florida, in 1901. She was, in fact, born in Notasulga, Alabama, on January 7, 1891, the fifth child of John Hurston (farmer, carpenter, and Baptist preacher) and Lucy Ann Potts (school teacher). The author of numerous books, including "Their Eyes Were Watching God, "Jonah's Gourd Vine, "Mules and Men, and "Moses, Man of the Mountain, Hurston had achieved fame and sparked controversy as a novelist, anthropologist, outspoken essayist, lecturer, and theatrical producer during her sixty-nine years. Hurston's finest work of fiction appeared at a time when artistic andpolitical statements--whether single sentences or book-length fictions--were peculiarly conflated. Many works of fiction were informed by purely political motives; political pronouncements frequently appeared in polished literary prose. And Hurston's own political statements, relating to racial issues or addressing national politics, did not ingratiate her with her black male contemporaries. The end result was that "Their Eyes Were Watching God went out of print not long after its first appearance and remained out of print for nearly thirty years. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., has been one among many to ask: "How could the recipient of two Guggenheims and the author of four novels, a dozen short stories, two musicals, two books on black mythology, dozens of essays, and a prizewinning autobiography virtually 'disappear' from her readership for three full decades?"
That question remains unanswered. The fact remains that every one of Hurston's books went quickly out of print; and it was only through the determined efforts, in the 1970s, of Alice Walker, Robert Hemenway (Hurston's biographer), Toni Cade Bambara, and other writers and scholars that all of her books are now back in print and that she has taken her rightful place in the pantheon of American authors.
In 1973, Walker, distressed that Hurston's writings had been all but forgotten, found Hurston's grave in the Garden of Heavenly Rest and installed a gravemarker. "After loving and teaching her work for a number of years," Walker later reported, "I could not bear that she did not have a known grave." The gravemarker now bears the words that Walker had inscribed there:
ZORA NEALE HURSTON
About the Author: In Brief
“A deeply soulful novel that comprehends love and cruelty, and separates the big people from the small of heart, without ever losing sympathy for those unfortunates who dont know how to live properly.” —Zadie Smith
One of the most important and enduring books of the twentieth century, Their Eyes Were Watching God brings to life a Southern love story with the wit and pathos found only in the writing of Zora Neale Hurston. Out of print for almost thirty years—due largely to initial audiences rejection of its strong black female protagonist—Hurstons classic has since its 1978 reissue become perhaps the most widely read and highly acclaimed novel in the canon of African-American literature.
Their Eyes Were Watching God, an American classic, is a luminous and haunting novel about Janie Crawford, a Southern black woman in the 1930s whose journey from a free-spirited girl to a woman of independence and substance has inspired writers and readers for close to seventy years.
This poetic, graceful love story, rooted in black folk traditions and steeped in mythic realism, celebrates, boldly and brilliantly, African-American culture and heritage. And in a powerful, mesmerizing narrative, it pays quiet tribute to a black woman, who, though constricted by the times, still demanded to be heard.
Originally published in 1937, Their Eyes Were Watching God met significant commercial but divided critical acclaim. Somewhat forgotten after her death, Zora Neale Hurston was rediscovered by a number of black authors in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and reintroduced to a greater readership by Alice Walker in her 1972 essay "In Search of Zora Neale Hurston," written for Ms. magazine. Long out of print, the book was reissued after a petition was circulated at the Modern Language Association Convention in 1975, and nearly three decades later Their Eyes Were Watching God is considered a seminal novel of American fiction.
With a new foreword by the celebrated novelist Edwidge Danticat — author of Eyes, Breath, Memory; The Farming of Bones; and Krik?Krak! — this edition of Their Eyes Were Watching God commemorates the singular, inimitable voice in America's literary canon and highlights its unusual publication history.
About the Author
Zora Neale Hurston was born in Notasulga, Alabama, in 1891, and died in 1960. In addition to her most celebrated work, the 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston's books include The Six Fools, Lies and Other Tall Tales, The Skull Talks Back, and What's the Hurry, Fox?, which speak to her legacy as a storyteller and cultural anthropologist.
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