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    Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God” Analysis

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    “Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. So begins Zora Neale Hurston’s brilliant novel about a woman’s search for her authentic self and for real love” (1; ch.1). This quote is a metaphor for the dreams that men have and what they do to pursue them. It is saying that some dreams come in with the tide and come true, while others keep sailing until time runs out. Their Eyes Were Watching God is a unique novel, due to its structure, plot, language, and dialect. Janie Crawford, the main character of the story, experiences a lot of hardships throughout the story. One being a struggle to find unconditional, true love and another being a black woman in America, often struggling to find her own voice. This novel is considered the most influential works to be written on African Americans and their society as a whole. It shows the struggles African Americans had to go through everyday, and the separation between races. Readers can better understand such underlying issues by exploring both background and literary elements of Their Eyes Were Watching God.

    First off, readers need to understand and analyze background elements in order to understand the novel. If readers understand background and literary elements then it will be easier to read, understand, and retain the information coming from the novel.

    Furthermore, Zora Neale Hurston was born on January 7, 1891 in Notasulga, Alabama. Hurston was an American Novelist that wrote seven books, including essays, plays, and more than 100 short stories. She was best known for her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God and she was also a leader in the Harlem Renaissance, helping to protect the rights of African Americans. Hurston moved with her family to Eatonville, Florida. Eatonville was a town where many African-Americans lived, and would often be described as a place where African-Americans lived as they pleased. Zora Neale Hurston was known for her contributions to African-American literature, portrayal of racial struggles in the South, and her ability to tell stories. Many of Hurston’s stories were about the troubled and sometimes great world that blacks lived in while in the South. These stories included humor, love, family, slavery, faith, and community. Hurston received many compliments as well as criticism for her work by both blacks and whites. Some writers of the Harlem Renaissance criticized her for writing about black culture instead of the relations between races. However, Hurston did not care and said that the richness of black culture existed to be appreciated, celebrated, and made into literature. Today, Zora Neale Hurston will always be remembered as one of the most influential contributors to the Harlem Renaissance period. She influenced other African-American writers and will never be forgotten for all the work she has done. (“Zora Neale Hurston.”, A&E Networks Television, 14 May 2018,

    Additionally, the setting of Their Eyes Were Watching God took place during the 1920s-1930s in Eatonville, as well as the Muck. In the beginning of Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie meets a man named Joe Starks and is attracted to him, so they run away together to Eatonville, Florida. While in Eatonville, Janie starts to fall out of love with Joe and begins to feel oppressed by him. After Joe dies, Janie meets a man named Tea Cake. She instantly falls in love with Tea Cake because of what a gentleman he is and how “natural” he is. Tea Cake then convinces Janie to leave Eatonville and go to the Muck with him. While in the Muck she begins to feel free, natural, and independent, as if she belonged there all along. Janie is beyond happy because she can do whatever she wants with the man she loves. (Shmoop Editorial Team. “Their Eyes Were Watching God Setting.” Shmoop, Shmoop University, 11 Nov. 2008,

    Although it is true, Their Eyes Were Watching God fits into several genres. It can be classified as a novel, as well as fiction, literary fiction, or psychological fiction. However, this novel is an example of bildungsroman. A bildungsroman is “a literary genre that focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from childhood to adulthood.” This is important to the story because it shows the life of Janie growing up from her early teen years to adulthood, and her relationships with a series of flawed men. (,,

    Therefore, readers need to understand the plot of the story to be able to understand what the novel is about. Plot is the main events of a novel. Without a plot there would be no conflict, which would result in no story. The ability to identify elements of the novel helps reading comprehension and a deeper understanding, as well as appreciation for the novel.

    At the beginning of the story, Janie Crawford returns to Eatonville, and her old friends wonder where she has been. She is now in her 40’s, and has been married three times. She tells her love story to her friend, Pheoby Watson. Janie was first married to an old, unattractive man named Logan Killicks by her Nanny. Nanny taught Janie that a marriage where you are provided for is better than a romantic one. However, Janie was not happy with him, so she decides to run away with a man named Joe Starks in hopes of finding true love. Joe Starks takes Janie to an African American town named Eatonville where he buys land and becomes mayor.

    Eventually, Janie gets so angry at Joe for making her separate from the townspeople of Eatonville that she lashes out at him. Joe then hits her across the face. Their relationship is broken and Janie starts to fall out of love with him. Joe then grows ill and dies. Janie inherits his wealth and meets a younger man named Tea Cake. Janie falls in love with him, so they get married and move to the Everglades together.

    Suddenly, disaster strikes when a hurricane comes to the Everglades, forcing people to evacuate. At first, Tea Cake refuses to leave, but then he sees Lake Okeechobee flood. Him and Janie evacuate to find higher ground. The flooding gets so bad that they have to swim great distances, and they pass a lot of destroyed buildings and dead bodies. Janie then sees a large piece of tar paper and decides to grab it for cover. As she tries to grab it she gets blown into rough water and screams for Tea Cake. She then sees a cow with a massive, vicious dog on its back. Tea Cake tells her to grab hold of the cow’s tail. Janie grabs the tail for safety but the dog starts attacking her. She starts screaming and Tea Cake rises out of the water and wrestles the dog, who bites him on the cheek before he stabs it to death. (ch. 18; 185-194).

    Finally, Janie and Tea Cake return to the Everglades to help with the post-hurricane cleanup. However, Tea Cake gets ill a few weeks later, experiencing choking attacks and refusing to eat or drink. The doctor pulls Janie to the side and tells her that he thinks the dog that bit Tea Cake had rabies. He also tells her that it is probably too late to save him, but he will order some medicine for him to take. A few weeks later, Tea Cake finds out that Mrs. Turner’s brother is back in town and becomes very suspicious and jealous that Janie is seeing him. The disease is taking over his brain, making him act extremely crazy. Suddenly, Tea Cake pulls a pistol on her and Janie shoots him with a rifle in defense. (ch. 19; 203-216).

    Certainly, readers need to understand characterization to be able to distinguish characters from one another. Characterization is a process by which a character becomes fully realized in a narrative. It is also a crucial part of making a story compelling. Characterization gives readers a strong sense of character’s personalities, which makes the characters vivid and believable.

    Admittedly, Janie Crawford is the protagonist, main character, whose life we follow throughout the story. She is the center of the story who makes the key decisions and experiences the consequences of them. Jane Crawford is the character who moves the plot forward, responsible for handling problems, and the most in need of change. Protagonists tend to undergo important, emotional changes during their struggles against antagonists, which Janie does. She also narroates the story to her best friend, Pheoby Watson, by telling her life story and her search for purpose and love in society.

    Equally important, there are many antagonists in the novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God. The first antagonist is Nanny (Janie’s grandmother). Nanny is an antagonist because she tries to force Janie to get married to Logan Killicks for all of the wrong reasons, such as wealth and security. She has bad intentions for Janie and tries to force her values onto her. The next antagonist is Logan Killicks. Logan Killicks is an antagonist because he treats Janie like a slave, mistreats her verbally, and threatens to kill her. The last antagonist is Joe Starks. Joe Starks is an antagonist because he treats Janie like his property, mistreats her all the time, doesn’t let her interact with other people, and doesn’t care what she wants out of life.

    Meanwhile, the theme in Their Eyes Were Watching God is people are willing to search for true, unconditional love if they are not happy with what they are getting. In the story, Janie gets married to her first husband, Logan Killicks. She is not happy with him and only married him because her Nanny wanted her too. She ends up running away with Joe Starks who tells her he wants to marry her, take her to the city, and make her a proper lady. However, Joe doesn’t marry Janie for love, he marries her to show her off. He doesn’t show her the love and care she wants, he just shows her off like a piece of property. Janie’s third husband, Tea Cake, is her first love. Tea Cake loves Janie and gives her the attention, love, and care she needs. He understands her, respects her, and doesn’t force her to be something she is not. This is the theme of the story because Janie experiences two failed marriages, but doesn’t give up on love and is willing to keep searching for it.

    To sum up, In Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston uses literary techniques, such as imagery, symbolism, and similes. Hurston uses literary techniques to convey meaning as well as bring clarity and richness to the story. Hurston uses imagery to help the reader get a visual of the characters, settings, or plot in the story. For example, on page 2 it says, “The men noticed her firm buttocks like she had grape fruits in her hip pockets; the great rope of black hair swinging to her waist and unraveling in the wind like a plume; then her pugnacious breasts trying to bore holes in her shirt.” (2; ch. 1). Hurston says this so readers will get an image of what Janie looks like and to know that she is a beautiful woman who catches the eye of every man in town. Hurston uses symbolism to signify ideas as well as provide more meaning and feeling to the story without directly saying it. For example, on page 64 it says, “This business of the head-rag irked her endlessly. But Jody was set on it. Her hair was NOT going to show in the store. It didn’t seem sensible at all. That was because Joe never told Janie how jealous he was. He never told her how often he had seen the other men figuratively wallowing in it as she went about things in the store.” (64; ch. 6). The head rag symbolizes how Janie felt trapped and oppressed as a woman. It also symbolizes Joe’s fear and jealousy of another man stealing her. However, when Joe dies, she rips off her head rag and burns them, symbolizing freedom and independence. Hurston uses similes to make the book more interesting, as well as give information about one object that is unknown by the reader and comparing it to something with which the reader is familiar with. An example of this is on page 38 and it says,”The morning road air was like a new dress.” (38; ch. 4). Hurston says this because Janie decides to leave her husband, Logan Killicks, for a man named Joe Starks. She feels as though this is something she needs to do and by doing this she is experiencing freedom, as well as a new life.

    For the most part, there were a lot of great reviews, as well as criticism for this novel. A lot of people said that it was very well written and they liked how they got to follow Janie through her journey and her struggles. Others said that it was slow moving, difficult to understand, and had unnecessary parts. People that didn’t like the novel said that they didn’t like the plot, dialect, and that it didn’t grab their attention. People that enjoyed it said that they liked how they got to see a different perspective of growing up in the South, in a male dominated society, and how they got to understand the life experiences colored people went through. (“Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston.” Goodreads, Goodreads, 30 May 2006,

    In conclusion, Their Eyes Were Watching is a novel that forever changed societies’ view on women. This novel helped other women that were not of color put themselves in a black woman’s shoes and experience the struggles they had to deal with.

    This essay was written by a fellow student. You may use it as a guide or sample for writing your own paper, but remember to cite it correctly. Don’t submit it as your own as it will be considered plagiarism.

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    Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God” Analysis. (2021, Dec 22). Retrieved from

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