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Free Study Guide-Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston-Free
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LITERARY/HISTORICAL INFORMATION

Alice Walker is credited with beginning the Zora Neale Hurston revival. Walker's 1975 article in Ms. magazine, "In Search of Zora Neale Hurston," recounts Walker's search for Hurston's grave. Since that time Their Eyes Were Watching God and Hurston herself have been recognized as significant contributors to American arts and letters, feminism, and African-American history and literature. The interest in feminism and minority literature in America in the 1970's provided a rich climate for Alice Walker's re- discovery, but Hurston's work is compelling on a wide number of fronts.

Their Eyes Were Watching God was probably too radical for 1937. The protagonist was a black female with an ability to effectively critique patriarchy and take her self- reflective time to make her own distinctions on how to exist in society. At the time, readers, especially males, considered the book racy and clumsily buffoonish. Now, however, it is recognized as a woman's straightforward look at her own desires in her relationships with others and a deft reproduction of small-town and rural life in Florida's African-American settlements. The book is not without weaknesses. Janie has nothing to say about being beaten by Tea Cake. In some sections, she remains silent, saying nothing. Some critics claim that the third-person narrative of the central story actually takes Janie's voice away from her. Many, however, praise the third person narrative, which they believe allows for Janie's silences to function as a self-reflective time for Janie, a chosen silence. The frame voice of Janie, talking to Pheoby , then becomes a folkloric, communal, story-teller's voice.


Besides addressing the enormous range of experiences of African-American women--specifically gender differences and race relations--Hurston also shows her love of anthropology in this novel. The colloquial-phonetic, or black vernacular, dialogue becomes an art-form, showing evidence of her clear mind, sharp ear, and quick pen. The effect is both lyrical and intellectual, for when the characters speak, they reveal how they order their lives. Her narrator's language, which is both person and specific, is her own unique and lively creation, but she also puts stories in the mouths of her characters--especially the porch sitters and the people of the muck. The stories reflect the values, social structures, and love of language of the people. Although Janie is absent in some of these stories they present the social ideas and responses Janie must contend with, including death rituals, the treatment of women as animals, issues of color-barrier within African- American groups, female fulfillment in marriage, and pro blems of materialism.

It is not surprising that Their Eyes Were Watching God has become an inspiration to a new generation of African- American and female writers since 1975.

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