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Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Research the life of Zora Neale Hurston and examine the autobiographical aspects of Their Eyes Were Watching God. Use both primary and secondary sources to conduct your research    


Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston is not an autobiography but biographical. The book is heavily inspired by her childhood life growing up in Eatonville, Florida, amongst the all-black town in the South. Hurston became part of the Harlem Renaissance literary movement when she moved to New York to attend college. She later returned to the South to do anthropological work and use it as her novels’ literary motivation. In the book, Hurston has fond memories of her experience growing up in Eatonville, its delights, and its shortcomings. Their Eyes Were Watching God prudently follows Hurston’s life in several ways. Whereas Hurston’s mom often inspired her to take risks and dream big, her dad was often afraid she would affront the white society, so he habitually disciplined her for being so pushy and confident. This same pressure is what the book’s protagonist, Janie Crawford, feels different times and from different persons in the book.

 The book is about the narrative of Janie, a deep- thoughtful, deep-sentimental black woman who boards on a pursuit for her self-identity. Janie’s journey starts at sixteen when her dying grandmom marries her off to Logan Killicks, an older man with sixty acres. Part of the goal Janie’s grandmom Nanny compels her into a loveless marriage to Logan is that Nanny was conceived into servitude and had few alternatives over her destiny(Kayano 37). Nanny has desired small comforts such as relaxing lazily on a deck and wants her granddaughter to have them together with the money and prestige irrespective of the emotional cost. What Nanny despise is that Janie also has her thoughts of freedom. But Nanny is likewise saddened by a deferred dream of her own.

Nanny admits to youthful Janie, “Ah wanted to preach an excellent sermon concerning colored women sitting’ on high. However they weren’t no pulpit for me” (Hurston 13).  By wedding Janie to Logan, Nanny offers Janie a reference point for self-identification since she trusts that she and Janie are branches of minus backgrounds.  Meisenhelder perceives Nanny’s determination in wedding Janie to Logan as one designed under the belief of economic benefit only, “Nanny thinks of marriage and economic refuge for Janie’’ (106). But this is not entirely factual since Nanny’s aims go past economic benefit. She desires to avert a circumstance that would destroy Janie’s self-worth and cause disgrace.

Nanny aims to safeguard Janie from the mistreatment she and her daughter Leafy have encountered and likewise leave Janie in a financially favorable condition. Hence, since Logan owns sixty acres of land and a house representing wealth, status, and affluence, Nanny trust he is the exact person for Janie to wed(Kayano 40). Nanny has an entirely different perspective of love and sex than Janie does since when Nanny was an adolescent black people were not treated as humans. Therefore, she presumes a similar fate will ensue those in her generation. She was protesting against Logan’s bid to change her into a workhorse, and she runs-off with Joe Starks, a cultured man with big dreams and immense voice. Joe discusses with Janie concerning things that matter to her heart, like transformation and his aspirations of becoming a leader.

Joe weds Janie and takes her to Eatonville, where after sometime, he becomes a mayor, postmaster, and landowner. Joe Starks is modeled On Joe Clarke, the Eatonville mayor during most of Hurston’s childhood growing up there. Frightened by Joe’s chauvinism, Janie becomes “a rut in the road” (Hurston 20). Hurston’s dad was Eatonville mayor for three terms, and she was proud of him. Indeed, this element of her life is replicated in Janie’s spouse Joe Starks, who declares himself Eatonville mayor. Hurston’s mom Lucy Hurston, was not amazed by John Hurston like everybody was. She was the motivation behind the man, modeling him into the perfect mayor and citizen. Hurston once stated to her mom that “the person who makes the idols never adores them, but gently he might have sculpted the clay” (Hurston 40). Thus, this is precisely how one might define Janie’s affair with Joe, and he continuously reviled that she did not adore him as everyone else did.

 Hurston defines Joe Starks as “they adored him because he was all these things, and also he was all these things since the town respected him” (Hurston 35). Thus, it is the thing that comes between Janie and Joe and exterminates their love. Meisenhelder argues that Janie’s married to Joe is only a continuance of her oppressing condition. Though unwilling to leave due to Nanny’s cautionary impact on her life, Janie trust she can be pleased in Joe’s company. Hence “Janie withdrew a longtime since he did not signify sun-up and pollen and budding trees. however, he talked for the far horizon. He talked about transformation and opportunities” (Hurston 29). It is not the love Janie venerates for her life; however, she depends on what she infers Joe represents: “far horizon” and the likelihood of fleeing the oppressive condition with Logan, achieving personal liberty herself and transformation also.

Hurston highlights “Far perspective” to signify liberty and the likelihood for Janie to attain her superlative life and that Joe represents a chunk of this horizon. Trusting that she would love Joe, Janie likens this encounter with a person under the pear tree. Notwithstanding the anticipation that Janie has for her marriage with Joe, he still subjugates her. Meisenhelder likened the marriage of Janie and Joe to Nanny’s encounters by relating Janie with the circumstances that Nanny most dreaded (107). despite Joe’s wealth, Janie becomes a spiritual slave in her marriage, a sexual item owned and ordered by her master (Meisenhelder 107).

When Hurston’s mom dies, and her dad remarried, his new spouse never wanted his eight kids. Hurston became an implicit orphan, handed around by family, and attended school infrequently. This is the same to Janie at the start of the book. Hurston was forever a visionary who favored to read and travel, and this is replicated in Janie. Likewise, like Janie, Hurston was not successful in her affairs. Hurston was wedded and divorced twice. She dated one younger lover who was demanding.  after Joe’s demise, Janie became romantically involved with Tea Cake, a free-spirited worker younger than Hurston. Cut from similar cloth as Hurston’s own younger man, Tea Cake is Janie’s true love. With Tea Cake, Janie is unrestricted to become herself.

 Amongst the confronts that Janie and Tea Cake experience is a destructive hurricane, modeled after the 1928 Lake Okeechobee whirlwind that murdered almost two thousand individuals in the Florida Everglades. Although during the storm, Hurston was not in Florida, she later interrogated several of its survivors. Likewise, she recreated the hurricane in intense detail since she had survived the Bahamas hurricane in 1929 (Olson 82). Hurston freely utilized such events from her personal life to inform this book, which is the core of a love narrative stimulated by her affair with Punter. However, Tea Cake is not Punter, and Janie is not Hurston. To be certain, Hurston infused Janie with some of the pursuing traits that typified her own life. However, Janie is more traditional than Hurston ever was, so she seeks her identity in men’s eyes and arms. On the contrary, Hurston pursued her identity in herself, her work, and in talking and composing her mind.

In conclusion, Hurston uses both the King’s English and the Eatonville Ebonics to attain an accuracy of spectacular expression. As a black female in the Harlem Renaissance, she trusted that her position was to write freely. That conviction presents an authenticity level in her work that upholds her position in the tenet of American literature. Hurston uses different literary devices to paint a characteristic picture signifying the 20th-century African-American culture. Symbolically she uses words in communicating her thoughts and concepts of a new cultural drive that was starting to emerge.






Primary Text

 Hurston, Zora N. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York: Harper Perennial, 1999.

Secondary text


Kayano, Yoshiko. “Burden, Escape, and Nature’s Role: A Study of Janie’s Development in Their Eyes Were Watching God.” Publications of the Mississippi Philological Association (1998): 36-44.

Meisenhelder, Susan.  “Ethnic and Gender Identity in Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God.”  Teaching American Ethnic pieces of literature:  Nineteen Essays.  Eds.   John R. Maitino and David R. Peck.  Albuquerque:  University of New Mexico Press, 1996:  105-117. 

Olson, Kirby. “Surrealism, Haiti, and Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God.” Real: The Journal of Liberal Arts 25.2 (2000): 80-93.

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