Their Eyes Were Watching God Research Paper Essay

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Their Eyes Were Watching God Research Paper

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 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 her B.A. from
Barnard she enrolled in Columbia University to begin graduate work (Discovering Authors,
2-4). Hurston's life seemed to be going well but she was soon to see the other side of

Hurston never stayed at a job for too long, constantly refusing the advances of male
employers, which showed part of her strong feminist disposition. But Hurston was still
seeking true love throughout her travels and education. At Howard University, Hurston met
Herburt Sheen whom she married on May 19, 1927 in St. Augstine, Florida (DA, 2). They
divorced shortly after they got married because they could not continue the idealistic
dreams they had shared in their youth. Zora Hurston's second marriage to Albert Price III
was also short lived. They were married in 1939 and divorced in 1943 (DA, 2). By the
mid-1940s Hurston's writing career had began to falter. While living in New York, Hurston
was arrested and charged with committing an immoral act with a ten-year-old boy. The
charges were later dropped when Hurston proved that she was in another country at the time
the incident allegedly took place (Discovering Authors, 3). Hurston already was witnessing
the rejection of all of her works submitted to her publisher, but the combined effects of
the arrest and the ensuing journalistic attack on her image doomed the majority of her
literary career. She wrote to a friend: "I care nothing for writing anything any more...
My race has seen fit to destroy me without reason, and with the vilest tools conceived by
man so far" (Discovering Authors, 4). In approximately 1950 Hurston returned to Florida,
where she worked as a cleaning woman in Rivo Alto. She later moved to Belle Glade,
Florida, in hopes of reviving her writing career. She failed and worked as many jobs
including: newspaper journalist, librarian, and substitute teacher (Baker, pages.html/chronology.htm). Hurston suffered a stroke in 1959
which demanded her admittance in the Saint Lucie County Florida Welfare Home. She died a
broken, penniless, invalid in January 1960 (DA, 5).

All of Hurston's trials built the basis for her best work. Therefore, the work that has
denoted her as one of the twentieth century's most influential authors did not come until
after she had graduated from college. However, the literature she composed in college was
by no means inferior. She was a defiant free-spirit even during her early college career.
While working on an anthropological study for her mentor, Franz Boas, she was exposed to
voo doo, which she quickly embraced. She was deeply interested in the subtle nuances that
voo doo had left scattered throughout Afro-American culture. She also adopted this
religion, which contrasted completely with her Baptist up-bringing , because it gave her a
new artistic sense. Voo doo freed her from the institutional restraints that she
experienced as a black woman in a white oligarchy (Hinton, 4). Her belief in voo doo
appeared in almost all of her works, including Their Eyes Are Watching God, where Zora's
fictitious Eatonville seems to be controlled by supernatural forces (Hinton, 5). Hurston
used her artistic talent to incorporate her cultural anthologies into her fiction by
combining many of the traditions and cultural tinges she discovered while tracing Black
culture into the fictional town of Eatonville (Hemenway, 13).

Hurston's most acclaimed work , Their Eyes Were Watching God, has been read, adored,
rejected, reviewed, and badgered by many literary critics and uneducated readers alike.
"In a book rich with imagery and black oral tradition, Zora Neale Hurston tells us of a
woman's journey that gives the lie to Freud's assertion that 'the difficult development
which leads to femininity seems to exhaust all the possibilities of the individual'"
(Reich, 163). This statement is manifested in Their Eyes... through Hurston's vivid
imagery and uncanny sense of her own needs. The plot centers around Janie, a character
some critics say is mimicked after Hurston herself, and her journey toward self-discovery.
As a victim of circumstance, Janie becomes a victim of her own position. She is raised to
uphold the standards of her grandmother's generation; she is taught to be passive and
subject to whatever life gives her. But as Janie grows older she begins to realize that
the world may not like it, but she has got to follow her desires, not suppress them. The
story begins in her childhood, with Janie exalting material possessions and money, two
things she has never had an abundance of. Janie marries twice, the second marriage being
bigamous. She realizes that she must be self-reliant. She experiences all of these things
in a totally Black community, where society is motivated by the most basic human

Hurston in-bedded her own life experiences into Their Eyes... with her clever
incorporation of prominent themes in society. While avoiding social prejudice, Zora
seamlessly integrates her own racial-discovery into her novel. The reader does not feel
that she is projecting social prejudices or personal attacks; but rather imparts a tender,
gentle revelation to Janie that she is Black. Janie is raised with white children in the
home of the family her Grandmother works for. She grows up playing, laughing, and enjoying
the things that the white children do, so much so, that she is included in a family
portrait. When she goes to look at the picture, she doesn't see herself- but rather a dark
girl with long hair. "Where is me? Ah don't see me," she complains (Their Eyes Were
Watching God, 6). She had not realized till that moment, she was not white.

To further the story-line, Hurston takes Janie on a journey of self-discovery with a
slightly feminist twist. Throughout the novel Janie is confronted with the compelling
desire by others to make her a "proper" woman. She is taught to be submissive. She is
taught to have no opinion and no initiative. However, she learns over time, she has the
growing feeling that something is missing, possibly her lack of self-confidence. She soon
becomes her own person, casting her given lot aside, and seeking a new one on her own
path, discovering her dreams and her identify. In this novel, Hurston expresses many of
her opinions on race relations. She is often criticized for her lack of confrontational
forces in Their Eyes..., however she explained that she has clearly defined her position
on race relations in her books. She has done it in a way that no group can actually ground
a claim that her work is catered to any one audience. Many Black critics at the time of
publication criticized Their Eyes... for its lack of racial awareness, while White
critics, such as Otis Ferguson, claimed that the book is ".. absolutely free of Uncle
Toms..." (DA, 2). Most contemporary critics feel Hurston's novel is the culmination of all
of Black culture. Hurston was often criticized for her writings. She was quick to reply: I
am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking
behind my eyes. I do not mind at all. I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negrohood
who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal and whose feeling are all
hurt about it.... No, I do not weep at the world- I am to busy sharpening my oyster knife
(Discovering Authors, 4).

Hurston showed her true opinions on race relations in her autobiography Dust Tracks on the
Road when she declared black artists should celebrate the positive aspects of black
American Negrohood. And that is exactly what Hurston did through her innovative characters
in Their Eyes Were Watching God. Janie is raised by her grandmother. Grandmother sets
Janie up for her journey of self-discovery. Janie's grandmother set her goal for Janie's
life by saying, "Ah wanted you to look upon yo' self. Ah don't want yo' feathers always
crumpled by folks throwin' up things in yo' face" (Hurston, 14). Her grandmother has a
desire to see Janie in a 'safe' place, or in other words, a place where she will never
have to want for anything. Janie loved her grandmother and wanted to please her even
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