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Book Analysis #5

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

By Jarell Wilson

January 29, 2009

“‘Two things everybody’s got tuh do do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they

got tuh find out about livin’ fuh theyselves’” (p.192).

How does the author use style to show the reader that it is necessary for people to find

their own identity or self-worth so they may provide themselves with all they need?
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People often attach themselves to others for security and comfort, this leads to a

dependence on others for identity, social necessities, and/or other necessities of humanity.

Therefore it is necessary for people to find their own identity or self-worth, through their

life experiences so they may provide themselves with all they need. In Their Eyes Were

Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston uses style via imagery, use of colloquialisms, biblical

allusion, characterization, and plot to show the reader that life is not worth living if one

does not have a voice that belongs solely to oneself.

First, Hurston’s use of imagery is constant throughout the novel as a whole is

prevalent, but it is often most used to describe nature, and through nature to reveal insight

to Janie’s thoughts and her character. “Oh to be a pear tree-any tree in bloom! With

kissing bees singing of the beginning of the world! … She had glossy leaves and bursting

buds…where were the singing bees for her (11)?”, and “From now on until death she was

going to have flower dust and springtime sprinkled over everything. A bee for her bloom

(32).” The author also uses imagery to paint grave images in the reader’s mind as well

for instance; “Some bodies dressed, some naked, and some with clam faces and satisfied

hands. Some dead with fighting faces and eyes flung wide open in wonder. Death had

found them watching, trying to see beyond seeing (170).”, and “Night was striding across

nothingness with the whole round world in his hands (158).” These dark images create a

true sense of setting in the reader’s mind and allow the theme to be revealed by the plot

more effectively.

Second, the use of colloquialisms by Hurston creates a proper feel of the time and

setting, also others the reader to gain a sense that the characters are more “alive” in a

sense. The style in which Hurston uses colloquialism shows the reader that the characters
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are uneducated and of southern descent, “You done lived wid me for twenty years and

you don’t half know me atall. And you could have but you was so busy worshippin’ de

works of yo’ own hands…(86)” Such use of phonetics show the reader the realistic

qualities of the character’s vocabularies and education level for the time period in which

they lived. The theme is revealed to the reader through the use of colloquialisms, by the

power that lies within the main character’s ability to find her own voice, “She made them

see how she couldn’t ever want to be rid of him. She didn’t plead to anybody (187).”

Also, due to the sacredness and familiarity the Bible has with most English

audiences authors have utilized it as tool to make their themes more understandable to the

audience, Hurston is no exception. Hurston uses Biblical allusions to show the reader the

power of the phrases her characters use, and deep insights to the characters as a whole.

“Janie had robbed him of his illusion of irresistible maleness that all men cherish, which

was terrible. The thing that Saul’s daughter had done to David (79).” Biblical allusions

are also used to describe Mrs. Turner obsession with Janie, “Half gods are worshipped in

wine and flowers. Real gods require blood (145).” Characters also use Biblical allusions,

Janie alludes to a messiah complex she feels for Tea Cake when she states in her mind,

“Tea Cake the sun of the Evening Sun had to die for loving her (178)”, such a reference

leads the reader to fully understand the power of the emotions Janie feels for Tea Cake.

Her love for Tea Cake leads her to her discovery of who she is.

Another tool the author uses is characterization to reveal the theme to the reader

by showing the reader how having a sense of identity and self-worth empowers Janie to

experience life for herself, thus providing herself with all of her necessities. First, Janie

was dependent on her grandmother for everything leading her grandmother to provide a
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husband for her, “Ah’m ole now. Ah can’t be always guidin’ yo feet from harm and

danger. Ah wants to see you married right away (13).” After her marriage to Logan

Killicks, Janie goes from man to man and not until the death of her third husband Tea

Cake does Janie stick up for herself. Before being in a relationship with Tea Cake and

discovering who she is Janie allowed others to push her to and fro, “‘You getting’ too

moufy, Janie,’ Starks told her. ‘Go fetch me de checker-board and de checkers.’ (75”, the

fact that the speaker, Joe Starks her second husband, used the word fetch, reveals to the

reader that to him Janie was more of a servant than an equal partner in their marriage. By

the end of Tea Cake’s life and their marriage, Janie develops hobbies and even is able to

defend herself in a court of law and win her case, “‘We find the death of Vergible Woods

to be entirely accidental and justifiable, and that no blame should rest upon the defendant

Janie Woods (188).” The independence that is revealed to the reader through the actions

of this once helpless little girl shows the power that lies in a person finding their own

sense of identity and significance.

Finally, the main tool that Zora Neale Hurston uses to reveal the theme to the

reader is her artful use of plot. The plot at first sounds quite simple: a young girl forced

into marriage by her grandmother and caretaker, but longs to find true love and

acceptance. The author then takes the reader from that simple outline and plunges the

reader into a deep journey in which the reader travels through the life of the main

character Janie. Not only that, but the reader also dives in and out of streams of Janie’s

consciousness, her narration, and the omniscient point-of-view. After Janie’s marriage to

Logan Killicks, she meets her second husband, “Joe Starks was the name, yeah Joe Starks

from in and through Georgy (28).” During her relationship with Janie felt trapped and
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oppressed, “Then one day she sat and watched the shadow of herself going about tending

the store and prostrating itself before Jody…making summertime out of lonesomeness

(77).” After the death of her husband Joe Starks, Janie meets Tea Cake, a man much

younger than Janie is and, the two fall in love, “He looked like the love thoughts of

women. He could be a bee to a blossom- a pear tree blossom in the spring (106).”

Throughout the course of the relationship Janie grows as a character and even after Tea

Cakes death she treasures him in her heart, “The kiss of his memory made pictures of

love and light against the wall. Here was peace (193).” At the end of Janie narrating her

story to her friend Pheoby she states, “Two things everybody’s got tuh do fuh theyselves.

They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin’ fuh theyselves (192).” By

using the plot, Hurston allows the reader to see the theme of the novel for themselves,

and through the eyes of Janie and her life experiences.

In my own life, I have found this to be true. At the beginning of the school the

choir began the competitive TMEA Audition process, with hopes that one of the students

in our choir department would make All-State Choir, I had a rather good shot at

achieving the aforementioned goal. I went from eleventh chair at District auditions, to

seventh chair at Region, to second chair at Pre-Area. All things were looking like they

were going to work out in my favor, Area auditions, which also count for State auditions

came on January 10, 2009 , and I thought my performance was rather brilliant, but only

two out of the five judges agreed with me. I ended up in twelfth chair. I was heartbroken;

it seemed that all of my hopes and aspirations for the school year had been shattered and

that the goal that I had been working on since the beginning of the school year had been

destroyed. I questioned my musical ability and if I had been deceived, or maybe the
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judges made a mistake, maybe they switched my card with some loser’s card. I checked,

and double checked, but to no travail, the judges really didn’t like me. This put me in to a

form of semi-depression in which I doubted my ability, but I realized one day walking to

class that music isn’t the same to everyone and that I had been artistic according to my

own likings, and what I like three out of five of those judges did not. I had to fail at that

audition to realize that I cannot allow my views of myself to be changed by outside

forces. I know who I am and I cannot, nor will not allow others to manipulate that about

me.

This novel has great literary merit; it teaches society as a whole about the

importance of finding one’s own personal importance and cherish and respect the value

of one’s life and the lives of those one loves. In conclusion, Their Eyes Were Watching

God’s use of, use of colloquialisms, biblical allusion, characterization, and plot to show

the reader that life is not worth living if one does not have a voice that belongs solely to

oneself.