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This is the main course site for Early Twentieth-Century Fiction, Spring 2021, taught by Prof. Andrew Goldstone. It holds the most up-to-date syllabus and the course commonplace book (described on the Commonplacing page). Group A students have last names beginning A–Ma; group B students have last names beginning Mc–Z.

Hurston, “Their Eyes Were Watching God”, Adapting to the Wild South

“A baby rabbit, terror ridden, squirmed through a hole in the
floor and squatted off there in the shadows against the wall,
seeming to know that nobody wanted its flesh at such a
time. And the lake got madder and madder with only its
dikes between them and him. In a little wind-lull, Tea Cake touched Janie and said, “Ah reckon you wish now you had of stayed in yo’ big house
’way from such as dis, don’t yuh?”
“Naw.”
“Naw?”
“Yeah, naw. People don’t die till dey time come nohow,
don’t keer where you at. Ah’m wid mah husband in uh
storm, dat’s all”” (Hurston 206).

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. 1937. New York: Harper Perennial, 2013.

Tea Cake believes that Janie when exposed to the fierce winds of a southern storm will wish to return to her old home. However, to his surprise, despite the ferocity of the storm Janie has adapted to and adores the wild lifestyle they live in the south and the storm does not bother her.

Their Eyes Were Watching God, “South”

“And the thing that got everybody was the way Janie caught on. She got to the place she could shoot a hawk out of a pine tree and not tear him up. Shoot his head off. She got to be a better shot than Tea Cake. They’d go out any late afternoon and come back loaded down with game. One night they got a boat and went out hunting alligators. Shining their phosphorescent eyes and shooting them in the dark. They could sell the hides and teeth in Palm Beach besides having fun together till work got pressing.” (174).

Moving south with Tea Cake represents a new chapter of Janie’s life. Not only does she feel freer and generally happier with Tea Cake, but in the Everglades, she is completely liberated from the traditional female role. Learning to shoot and hunt represents Janie breaking free from female stereotypes. Not only does she participate in typically masculine activities, but she excels at them.

Hurston, “Their Eyes Were Watching God”: Going South

“To Janie’s strange eyes, everything in the Everglades was big and new. Big Lake Okechobee, big beans, big cane, big weeds, big everything.”

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. 1937. New York: Harper Perennial, 2013.

Janie is anticipates life in the Everglades. The repetition of the word “big” in the list of descriptions show for how vast and hopeful the land is. Perhaps this description foretells the massiveness of the hurricane that hits the Everglades in ch. 18. 

Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neal Hurston: Janie’s New Life in the South

“Sometimes Janie would think of the old days in the big white house and the store and laugh to herself. What if Eatonville could see her now in her blue denim overalls and heavy shoes? The crowd of people around her and a dice game on her floor! She was sorry for her friends back there and scornful of the others. The men held big arguments here like they used to do on the store porch. Only here, she could listen and laugh and even talk some herself if she wanted to. She got so she could tell big stories herself from listening to the rest. Because she loved to hear it, and the men loved to hear themselves, they would “woof” and “boogerboo” around the games to the limit. No matter how rough it was, people seldom got mad, because everything was done for a laugh” (Hurston 128).

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. 1937. New York: Harper Perennial, 2013.

Janie’s life in the south is almost a polar opposite from what she experienced in the North. She is in love with her husband, more independent, and happier. What this passage particularly highlights is how Janie pities those back in Eatonville, even though they would probably pity her too if they saw how she lived. It’s interesting to see how differently the characters find reasons to pity each other and to believe that one is trapped or wasting away in the lifestyle they have chosen.

Hurston, “Their Eyes Were Watching God” Theme: Traveling South

“She made them see how she couldn’t ever want to be rid of him. She didn’t plead to anybody. She just sat there and told and when she was through she hushed” (Hurston 187).

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. 1937. New York: Harper Perennial, 2013.

indirect discourse (?), Janie speaking through narrator, lack of voice- similar to Dr. in this scene

Style of the opening sentences in each chapter

“The years took all the fight out of Janie’s face. For a while she thought it was gone from her soul. No matter what Jody did, she said nothing. She had learned how to talk some and leave some. She was a rut in the road.”

(Hurston 77)

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer. Janie had had no chance to know things, so she had to ask. Did marriage end the cosmic loneliness of the unmated? Did marriage compel love like the sun the day?”

(Hurston 21)

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York :Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006.

 

At the start of each chapter Hurston poses a overarching statement or slice of wisdom. Often it is about the passage of time, the experience of marriage, or otherwise a beautiful introduction to the chapter. This is my favorite stylistic choice by Hurston because it draws the reader into the chapter and promises a compelling narrative.

 

Their Eyes Were Watching God

“An envious heart makes a treacherous ear. They done ‘heard’ ’bout you just what they hope done happened.”

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006 page 37.

 

Here Phoebe speaks about the effects of what envy can do to one speaking in a social context. Hurston’s novel is based heavily on what others said, instead of the whole truth. This puts the subject of altered truth into perspective for the reader to analyze.

Social Context in Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God”

“Janie loved the conversation and sometimes she thought up good stories on the mule, but Joe had forbidden her to indulge. He didn’t want her talking after such trashy people. “Youse Mrs. Mayor Starks, Janie. I God, Ah can’t see what uh woman uh yo’ stability would want tuh be treasurin’ all dat gum-grease from folks dat don’t even own de house dey sleep in. ‘Taint no earthly use. They jus’ some punny humans playin’ round de toes uh Time” (Hurston 53-54).

This is a loaded moment. Jody creates an entire social hierarchy by shielding his wife from the poor but good-spirited men. Jody refuses to let Janie blossom and she wants to be members of both societies; the established and matronly mayor’s wife and the easy-going and talkative townsfolk. Jody does this out of an unhealthy jealousy and protection as well as his hubris (which the townspeople notice frequently). Jody puts himself atop of everyone in his hierarchy and his wife needs to be a reflection of that. So ultimately, Janie is stuck in between and is getting restless.

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006, pages 53-54

Their Eyes were watching God – Commonplace

“The familiar people and things had failed her so she hung over the gate and looked up the road towards way off. She knew now that marriage did not make love. Janie’s first dream was dead, so she became a woman.”

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006, page 25.

Thus far, Jamie reminisces over her life, and how different it is from the one she imagined, coming face to face with her expected role as a woman and a wife. Realizing that even with a relatively wealthy husband, she was not happy even though her grandmother had said this was her way to a better life. She recognizes the expectations towards her because of her gender and because of her status as a married woman.

Hurston, Their Eyes – Janie and Pheoby

“‘Pheoby, we been kissin’-friends for twenty years, so Ah depend on you for a good thought. And Ah’m talking to you from dat standpoint.’

Time makes everything old so the kissing, young darkness became a monstropolous thing while Janie talked” (7).

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006.

Janie trusts Pheoby because they are old friends. The “time” between them has fostered trust in their relationship, and Janie relies on Pheoby to tell her the truth about the townspeople’s gossip after her return. Similar to As I Lay Dying, Hurston uses the vernacular and dialect of this region and community (“Ah,” “Ah’m”) with little, if anything, lost in translation to Standard American English.

 

Their Eyes Were Watching God

“What she doin coming back here in dem overhalls? Can’t she find no dress to put on? – Where’s dat blue satin dress she left here in? – Where all dat money her husband took and died and left her? – What dat ole forty year ole ‘oman doin’ wid her hair swingin’ down her back lak some young gal? – Where she left dat young lad of a boy she went off here wid? – Thought she was going to marry? – Where he left her? – What he done wid all her money? – Betcha he off wid some gal so young she ain’t even got no hairs – Why she don’t stay in her class?”

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006, page 2.

The Eatonville residents are clearly jealous of Janie and so they point out everything that’s different about her or doesn’t align with the way people from her class should look and behave.

Hurston & The Person We Think We Are Meant to Be

“So when we looked at de picture and everybody got pointed out there wasn’t nobody left except a real dark little girl with long hair standing by Eleanor. Dat’s where Ah wuz s’posed to be, but Ah couldn’t recognize dat dark chile as me, So Ah ast, ‘where is me? Ah don’t see me.’ … But before Ah seen de picture Ah thought Ah wuz  just like the rest” (Hurston 31).

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. HarperCollins, 2004.

 

“Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston Commonplace-Book Entry: Janie’s Social Context of Not Fitting In While Growing Up

“‘Us lived dere havin’ fun till de chillun at school got to teasin’ me ’bout livin’ in de white folks’ back-yard. Dere wuz uh knotty head gal name Mayrella dat useter git mad every time she look at me. Mis’ Washburn useter dress me up in all de clothes her gran’chillun didn’t need no mo’ which still wuz better’n whut de rest uh de colored chillun had. And then she useter put hair ribbon on mah head fuh me tuh wear. Dat useter rile Mayrella uh lot. So she would pick at me all de time and put some others up tuh do de same. They’d push me ’way from de ring plays and make out they couldn’t play wid nobody dat lived on premises. Den they’d tell me not to be takin’ on over mah looks ’cause they mama told ’em ’bout de hound dawgs huntin’ mah papa all night long. ’Bout Mr. Washburn and de sheriff puttin’ de bloodhounds on de trail tuh ketch mah papa for whut he done tuh mah mama. Dey didn’t tell about how he wuz seen tryin’ tuh git in touch wid mah mama later on so he could marry her. Naw, dey didn’t talk dat part of it atall. Dey made it sound real bad so as tuh crumple mah feathers. None of ’em didn’t even remember whut his name wuz, but dey all knowed de bloodhound part by heart. Nanny didn’t love tuh see me wid mah head hung down, so she figgered it would be mo’ better fuh me if us had uh house. She got de land and everything and then Mis’ Washburn helped out uh whole heap wid things.’”

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006, page 9-10.

This passage shows that Janie does not quite fit in with the white people around her, nor the black people either. She always thought that she was white when she was little, because she grew up in similar circumstances as them and used to play with them. However, in the passage above, it can be seen that some white children like Mayrella began to get jealous that a black girl wore nice clothes and accessories like white girls did, such as more expensive dresses and ribbons to wear in her hair that Janie received from Miss Washburn, and started to make fun of her a lot. Janie also does not seem to fit in with the rest of the black children, either, because she did not live in the same neighborhood or circumstances as they did, since she was able to wear nicer clothes than they could, and did not have to work hard like them to get what she had in life, because her grandma and Miss Washburn were able to help her live a more luxurious and relaxing life than most other black families were able to, by buying a nice house in a nice neighborhood for her to live in. So in the social context of being able to relate to others, Janie does not seem to fully belong in the white crowd or fully belong in the black crowd, since she does not have the same experience as either of them, which might have made her feel like an outcast while growing up. This could explain why Janie seems to connect more with nature than other people later on in the book.

Commonplace-Book Entry: “Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston, Janie’s Social Context in a New Town

“Janie soon began to feel the impact of awe and envy against her sensibilities. The wife of the Mayor was not just another woman as she had supposed. She slept with authority and so she was part of it in the town mind. She couldn’t get but so close to most of them in spirit.”

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006, page 46.

In this text, it shows how much Janie does not understand about the social contexts of being a woman seen as part of authority and is starting to realize what the effects of that are among other people in the town. By stating that she thought of a Mayor’s wife as any other woman, this means that Janie must not have been close to any higher up people or have been around people who would know or talk about any higher up or upper class people, or even those of authority. Or perhaps, because she was raised around white families and children, she was able to be around only other higher class people, without being exposed to the other classes of people very often, so she would only be exposed to the relationships, talks, and judgement of those that she was raised around, and most likely, she was never seen as above any of those people because of her race, but rather she would be seen as an equal in her case, especially because she said that she did not feel any different than the white children. However, now that she is living among those of her own race and is the wife of Joe, who has proclaimed himself as this new town’s mayor, Janie is seeing for the first time the effects of being treated as higher than those around her. So, perhaps within Janie’s social context where she grew up in a tight circle of people and feeling like she was equal with everybody, either because she was never exposed to those of higher authority or because she was only around and apart of higher class people, is why she never expected the wife of a mayor to be treated differently than any other woman. She is now living with different people in a different place than she was always used to, so I feel that it would be understandable that Janie would not feel as close to them in spirit already, but with her being introduced into the town as the wife of a man who tries to take authority over the town right away, who also doesn’t allow her to make big speeches, I feel that this is also what is making it harder for Janie to socially connect with any of the other women in town. 

Their Eyes Were Watching God Commonplacing

‘”An envious heart makes a treacherous ear. They done ‘heard’ ’bout you just what they hope done happened.’ ‘If God don’t think no mo’ ’bout ’em than Ah do, they’s a lost ball in high grass'” (Hurston 5).

Janie and Pheoby are talking about how the women like to gossip a lot about things and situations they do not understand. Pheoby makes a good point by saying that the reason that they gossip and talk about what they think they “heard” is because they are jealous and want the awful things they hear to be true. I think it is important that the author made a point to show in Janie’s speech her lack of education because it makes her maturity in handling the ridicule that much more astounding and impressive. She does not really let what the women say get to her because she knows who she is and is confident that she knows the truth and that is the only thing that matters.

Their Eyes Were Watching God, Social Context, Bryant Magdaleno

“Janie asked inside of herself and out. She
was back and forth to the pear tree continuously wondering and thinking. Finally out of Nanny’s talk and her own conjectures she made a
sort of comfort for herself. Yes, she would love Logan after they were
married. She could see no way for it to come about, but Nanny and the
old folks had said it, so it must be so. Husbands and wives always
loved each other, and that was what marriage meant.”

Hurston, Zora Neale, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006, pg 23.

Within the text Janie is internalizing the thought of marrying Logan, so with the help of Nanny’s talk to her she creates this thought of social expectation upon herself to justify in her mind her marriage. Janie thinks that love should be and is part of marriage as husband and wife, and the circumstance would not stop this idea of love even if it would be a delayed reaction from her marriage to him . Janie creates this social context on how the outside world would view them as married couple, to her and others they must be in love with each and thus she forces upon herself this idea no matter way they start she will learn to love him. Its within her social context of the idea of marriage and how she images it to be played. The reality she later faces bring her to a harsh realization that the within the social context of her marriage that she does not love Logan which later bring her to break this concept she used to justify her loveless relationship.

Their Eyes Were Watching God: Janie & The “Terrible” Nature of Breaking Silence (Social Context)

“Then Joe Starks realized all the meanings and his vanity bled like a flood… Janie had robbed him of his illusion of irresistible maleness that all men cherish, which was terrible… There was nothing to do in life anymore. Ambition was useless. And the cruel deceit of Janie! Making all that show of humbleness and scorning him all the time! Laughing at him, and now putting the town up to do the same. Joe Starks didn’t know the words for all this, but he knew the feeling. So he struck Janie with all his might and drove her from the shore.”

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. Harper Perennial Modern Classics,  2006, page 79-80.

Janie’s Social Actions

“Janie starched and ironed her face and came set in the funeral behind her veil. It was like a wall of stone and steel. The funeral was going on outside. All things concerning death and burial were said and done. Finish. End. Nevermore. Darkness. Deep hole. Dissolution. Eternity. Weeping and wailing outside. Inside the expensive black folds were resurrection and life. She did not reach outside for anything, nor did the things of death reach inside to disturb her calm. She sent her face to Joe’s funeral, and herself went rollicking with springtime across the world.”

Hurston, Nora Zeale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. Harper Perennial Modern Classics,  2006, page 89.