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Their Eyes Were Watching God

Their Eyes Were Watching God
First edition
Author Zora Neale Hurston
Country United States
Language English
Publisher J. B. Lippincott
Publication date
September 18, 1937
OCLC 46429736

Their Eyes Were Watching God is a 1937 novel and the best known work by African-American writer Zora Neale Hurston. The novel narrates main character Janie Crawford's "ripening from a vibrant, but voiceless, teenage girl into a woman with her finger on the trigger of her own destiny."[1] Set in central and southern Florida in the early 20th century, the novel was initially poorly received for its rejection of racial uplift literary prescriptions. Today, it has come to be regarded as a seminal work in both African-American literature and women's literature.[2] TIME included the novel in its 2005 list of the 100 best English-language novels published since 1923.[3]


  • Historical context 1
    • Racism in the early 1900s 1.1
    • The Racial Uplift program 1.2
    • Hurston and the Harlem Renaissance 1.3
  • Politics 2
  • Plot synopsis 3
  • Inspirations and influences 4
  • Reception 5
    • Initial reception 5.1
    • Rediscovery 5.2
  • Critical analysis 6
  • Adaptations for theater, film and radio 7
  • Cultural references 8
  • Notes 9
  • External links 10

Historical context

Racism in the early 1900s

African Americans like Hurston grew up in a hostile economic, political, and social climate. White Democrats had regained power in the South in the late 19th century through violence and intimidation around elections; once in power, they passed Jim Crow laws and, from 1890 to 1910, passed new constitutions and laws that anti-lynching bill to the Judiciary Committee. It was defeated by a large majority, led by southern Democrats. Congressman White was the last African-American congressman to serve for more than a quarter of a century.[4]

Tenant farming and sharecropping systems constituted the de facto re-enslavement of African Americans in the South, where Hurston's novel is based.[5] The more than one million African Americans who migrated to the North between 1910 and 1920 found stiff competition from waves of European immigrants and continued to struggle with unemployment.[6] Racism was gaining legitimacy in the decades leading up to Hurston's writing of Their Eyes Were Watching God. Baptist preacher Thomas Dixon, Jr. wrote The Leopard's Spots: A Romance of the White Man's Burden in 1902, asserting white supremacy amidst supposed African-American evil and corruption. The book was so popular that Dixon wrote a trilogy. His second novel, The Clansman, was adapted for the silent film Birth of a Nation (1915).[7] It portrayed African-American men as unintelligent and sexually aggressive towards white women.

The Racial Uplift program

In response to the hostile and inaccurate portrayals of his race, W. E. B. Du Bois wrote an article for the NAACP journal The Crisis. In that article, "Criteria of Negro Art",[8] he argued that all art is propaganda and his art would always be political.[9] He thus advocated an Uplift program to improve the image of African Americans in society. The Uplift agenda presented fine and upstanding African Americans who conformed to the social mores of the day. Pursuing this aim, the black women's club movement attempted to combat the stereotype of licentiousness for black women. Their response was a stigmatized or entirely muted presentation of black female sexuality in African-American literature and art.[10]

Hurston and the Harlem Renaissance

The FIRE!!, that would publish the African-American experience without any filters or censors. Hurston's contributions, like her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, used vernacular southern African-American English. Completely rejecting the Uplift agenda, the magazine also included homoerotic work as well as portrayals of prostitution.[13] Foreshadowing the African-American community's response to Their Eyes Were Watching God, FIRE!! sold very poorly and was condemned as maligning the image of the community. The Baltimore Afro-American reviewer wrote that he "just tossed the first issue of FIRE!! into the fire".[14]


Hurston rejected the Racial Uplift efforts to present African Americans in a way that would accommodate the cultural standards of the white majority. Yet she also asserted her work as distinct from the work of fellow Harlem Renaissance writers she described as the "sobbing school of Negrohood" that portrayed the lives of black people as constantly miserable, downtrodden and deprived.[15] Instead, Hurston celebrated the rural, southern African-American communities as she found them. In addition, Hurston refused to censor women's sexuality, writing in beautiful innuendo to embrace the physical dimension to her main character's romances.

Plot synopsis

The main character Janie Crawford, an African-American woman in her early forties, tells the story of her life via an extended flashback to her best friend, Pheoby Watson. Pheoby tells Janie's story to the nosy community on her behalf. Her life has three major periods corresponding to her marriages to three very different men.

Nanny, Janie's grandmother, was a slave who became pregnant by her owner and gave birth to a mixed-race daughter Leafy. Nanny escaped from her jealous mistress and found a good home after the end of the American Civil War. Nanny tried to create a good life for her daughter, but Leafy was raped by her school teacher and became pregnant with Janie. Shortly after Janie's birth, Leafy began to drink and stay out at night. Eventually, she ran away, leaving her daughter Janie with Nanny.

Nanny transfers all the hopes she had for Leafy to Janie. When Janie is sixteen, Nanny sees her kissing a neighborhood boy, Johnny Taylor, and fears that Janie will become a "mule" to some man wanting her only for her body and labour.

Nanny arranges for Janie to marry Logan Killicks, an older man and farmer looking for a wife. Although Janie is not interested in either Logan or marriage, her grandmother wants her to have the stability she never had: legal marriage to Killicks, Nanny thinks, will give Janie opportunities. Nanny feels that Janie will be unable to take care of herself so she must marry a man who will take care of her.[16]

Janie has the idea that marriage must involve love, forged in a pivotal early scene where she sees bees pollinating a pear tree, and believes that marriage is the human equivalent to this natural process. Killicks wants a domestic helper rather than a lover or partner; he thinks Janie does not do enough around the farm and that she is ungrateful. Janie speaks to Nanny about how she feels, but Nanny, too, accuses her of being spoiled. Soon afterward, Nanny dies.

Unhappy and lonely, Janie runs off with the glib Jody (Joe) Starks, who takes her to Eatonville. Finding the small town residents unambitious, Starks arranges to buy more land, establishes a general store which he has built by local residents, and is soon elected as mayor of the town. Janie realizes that Starks wants her as a trophy wife, to reinforce his powerful position in town. He asks her to run the store but forbids her from participating in the substantial social life that occurs on the store's front porch. He treats her as his property, controlling what she wears and says, and criticizes her mistakes. As time passes, he teases her in public about being old, even though she is only in her thirties. Janie refrains from arguing with him.

Eventually, she cannot bear it and snaps back at him to look at himself. Starks hits her as hard as he can. Later, he gets sick, moves away, and refuses to let Janie see him. He does not realize that he has a failing kidney, a likely fatal illness. When Janie learns that he might die, she goes to visit him. She tells him who she really is, and that he never knew because he would not let her be free.

After Starks dies, Janie becomes financially independent through his estate. She is beset with suitors, some of whom are men of some means or have prestigious occupations, and all of whom she turns down. She meets a young drifter and gambler named Vergible Woods who goes by the name "Tea Cake". Tea Cake plays the guitar for her and initially treats her with kindness and respect. At first Janie is doubtful of his affections, as she is older and has wealth, but eventually falls in love with him.

She sells the store, and the two head to Jacksonville to marry. They move to the Everglades region ("the muck") where they find work planting and harvesting beans. While their relationship has its ups and downs, including mutual bouts of jealousy and an episode in which Tea Cake whips Janie in order to demonstrate his possession of her, Janie realizes she now has the marriage with love that she's always wanted.

The area is hit by the great Okeechobee hurricane. Tea Cake is bitten by a rabid dog while saving Janie from the dog and from drowning, and he contracts the disease. Over time, he becomes increasingly jealous and unpredictable despite Janie's best efforts. He ultimately tries to shoot Janie with his pistol, but she shoots him with a rifle in self-defense. She is charged with murder.

At the trial, Tea Cake's black male friends show up to oppose her, but a group of local white women arrive to support Janie. The all-white jury acquits Janie, and she gives Tea Cake a lavish funeral. Tea Cake's friends are apologetic and forgive her, and they want her to remain in the Everglades. However, she decides to return to Eatonville. As she expected, the residents are gossiping about her. The story ends where it started, and Janie finishes telling her story to Pheoby.

Inspirations and influences

Perhaps the strongest inspiration for Hurston's writing of Their Eyes Were Watching God was her former lover Percival Punter.[10] Hurston writes in her autobiography that the romance between Janie and Tea Cake was inspired by a tumultuous love affair. She described falling in love with the man as "a parachute jump".[17] Like Janie in the novel, Hurston was significantly older than her lover. Like Tea Cake, Punter was sexually dominant and sometimes violent.[18] Hurston wrote Their Eyes Were Watching God three weeks after the tumultuous conclusion of her relationship with Punter. She wrote in her autobiography that she had "tried to embalm all the tenderness of [her] passion for him."[19] With this emotional inspiration, Hurston went on to paint the picture of Their Eyes Were Watching God using her personal experience and research as a template.

In 1927, a decade before writing Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston traveled south to collect folk songs and folk tales through an anthropological research fellowship arranged by her Barnard College mentor Franz Boas.[20] The all-black Eatonville of Their Eyes Were Watching God is based on the all-black town of the same name in which Hurston grew up. The town's weekly announced in 1889, "Colored People of the United States: Solve the great race problem by securing a home in Eatonville, Florida, a Negro city governed by negroes."[21] The hurricane that symbolizes the climax of Hurston's story also has an historical inspiration; in 1928, "a hurricane ravaged both coastal and inland areas of Florida, bringing torrential rains that broke the dikes of Lake Okeechobee".[22] Scholars of the African diaspora note the cultural practices common to the Caribbean, Africa, and the United States in Their Eyes Were Watching God.[23]

Hurston wrote Their Eyes Were Watching God while on a Guggenheim Fellowship in Haiti to research Obeah practices in the West Indies.[24]


Initial reception

Hurston's political views in Their Eyes Were Watching God were met with resistance from several leading Harlem Renaissance authors.

Novelist and essayist Richard Wright condemned Their Eyes Were Watching God, writing in a review for New Masses (1935):
Miss Hurston seems to have no desire whatsoever to move in the direction of serious fiction… [She] can write; but her prose is cloaked in that facile sensuality that has dogged Negro expression since the days of Phyllis Wheatley... Her characters eat and laugh and cry and work and kill; they swing like a pendulum eternally in that safe and narrow orbit in which America likes to see the Negro live: between laughter and tears.[25]

Ralph Ellison said the book contained a "blight of calculated burlesque."[26]

Alain Locke writes in a review: "when will the Negro novelist of maturity, who knows how to tell a story convincingly—which is Miss Hurston's cradle gift, come to grips with motive fiction and social document fiction?"[27]

The New Republic‍ '​s Otis Ferguson wrote: "it isn't that this novel is bad, but that it deserves to be better". But he went on to praise the work for depicting "Negro life in its naturally creative and unselfconscious grace".[28]

Not all African-American critics had negative things to say about Hurston's work. Carter G. Woodson, founder of The Journal of Negro History wrote, "Their Eyes Were Watching God is a gripping story... the author deserves great praise for the skill and effectiveness shown in the writing of this book." The critic noted Hurston's anthropological approach to writing, "She studied them until she thoroughly understood the working of their minds, learned to speak their language".[29]

Meanwhile, reviews of Hurston's book in the mainstream white press were largely positive, although they did not translate into significant retail sales. Writing for The New York Times, Ralph Thompson states: "the normal life of Negroes in the South today—the life with its holdovers from slave times, its social difficulties, childish excitements, and endless exuberances... compared to this sort of story, the ordinary narratives of Negroes in Harlem or Birmingham seem ordinary indeed."[30]

For the New York Herald Tribune, Sheila Hibben described Hurston as writing "with her head as with her heart" creating a "warm, vibrant touch". She praised Their Eyes Were Watching God as filled with "a flashing, gleaming riot of black people, with a limitless sense of humor, and a wild, strange sadness".[31]

New York Times critic Lucille Tompkins described Their Eyes Were Watching God: "It is about Negroes... but really it is about every one, or at least every one who isn't so civilized that he has lost the capacity for glory."[32]


As universities across the country developed Black Studies programs in the 1970s and 1980s, they created greater space for Black literature and academia. Several prominent academics, including Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Addison Gayle, Jr., established a new "Black Aesthetic" that "placed the sources of contemporary black literature and culture in the communal music and oral folk tradition".[33] This new respect coupled with a growing Black feminism led by Mary Helen Washington, Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, and others would create the space for the rediscovery of Hurston.[33]

Hurston first achieved a level of mainstream institutional support in the 1970s. Walker published an essay, "Looking for Zora," in Ms. magazine in 1975. In that work, she described how the Black community's general rejection of Hurston was like "throwing away a genius". The National Endowment for the Humanities went on to award Robert Hemenway two grants for his work to write Hurston's biography.[34] The 1977 biography was followed in 1978 by the re-issue of Their Eyes Were Watching God.

In 1975, the

  • Describes Hurston's participation in the Harlem Renaissance; also summary, analysis, themes, and essays from "Their Eyes Were Watching God"

External links

  1. ^ National Endowment for the Arts website.
  2. ^ Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Zora Neale Hurston: Critical Perspectives Past and Present (New York: Amistad, 1993), p. xi.
  3. ^
  4. ^ King, Lovalerie. The Cambridge Introduction to Zora Neale Hurston. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008, p. 19.
  5. ^ King. The Cambridge Introduction to Zora Neale Hurston, p. 20.
  6. ^ King. The Cambridge Introduction to Zora Neale Hurston, p. 27.
  7. ^ King. The Cambridge Introduction to Zora Neale Hurston. p. 20.
  8. ^ The Crisis, Vol. 32, October 1926: pp. 290-297.
  9. ^ King. The Cambridge Introduction to Zora Neale Hurston. p. 24.
  10. ^ a b King. The Cambridge Introduction to Zora Neale Hurston. p. 25.
  11. ^ Locke, Alain. The New Negro, 1925, p. xxv, cited in King, The Cambridge Introduction to Zora Neale Hurston. p. 29.
  12. ^ King. The Cambridge Introduction to Zora Neale Hurston. p. 28.
  13. ^ King. The Cambridge Introduction to Zora Neale Hurston. p. 29.
  14. ^ Baltimore Afro-American review, cited in Harris, E. "Renaissance Men." The Advocate, 07 11, 2008.
  15. ^ Bray, Rosemary L. "Renaissance for a Pioneer of Black Pride". New York Times, 02 09, 1990.
  16. ^
  17. ^ Hurston, Zora. Dust Tracks on a Road: An Autobiography. New York: J. B. Lippincott, 1942, p. 205. as cited in Bloom, Harrold. Bloom's Guides - Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2009, p. 15.
  18. ^ Bloom, Bloom's Guides - Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, p. 15.
  19. ^ Hurston, Dust Tracks on a Road, p. 188. as cited in Bloom, Bloom's Guides - Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, p. 15.
  20. ^ King, The Cambridge Introduction to Zora Neale Hurston. p. 7.
  21. ^ The Eatonville Speaker, 1889. cited in Lester, Neal. Understanding Their Eyes Were Watching God. London: The Greenwood Press, 1999, p. 148.
  22. ^ Bloom, Bloom's Guides - Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. p. 14.
  23. ^ Wall, Cheryl A. Their Eyes Were Watching God - A Casebook. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. p. 6.
  24. ^ Miles, Diana. "Diana Miles on Female Identity and Rebirth". Bloom's Guides - Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. Edited by Harrold Bloom. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2009, p. 66.
  25. ^ Wright, Richard. Review in New Masses, October 5, 1935. cited in Bloom, Bloom's Guides - Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, p. 15.
  26. ^ Ellison, Ralph. As cited in Burt, Daniel. The Novel 100. Checkmark Books, 2003, p. 366.
  27. ^ Locke, Alain. Opportunity, 06 01, 1938. (accessed April 18, 2012).
  28. ^ Ferguson, Otis. The New Republic, 13 October 1937. (accessed April 18, 2012).
  29. ^ Forrest, Ethel. "Book Reviews" The Journal of Negro History. January 1, 1938. (Accessed April 12, 2012).
  30. ^ Thompson, Ralph. "Books of the Times." The New York Times. October 6, 1937. accessed March 30, 2012.
  31. ^ Hibben, Sheila. "Book Review". New York Herald Tribune, 09-26, 1937. As cited in Bloom, Bloom's Guides - Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. p. 16.
  32. ^ Tompkins, Lucille. "Book Review." The New York Times. September 26, 1937. As cited in King, The Cambridge Introduction to Zora Neale Hurston. p. 113.
  33. ^ a b c Spencer, Stephen. "On Hurston's Contribution to the Canon." Bloom's Guides - Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. Edited by Harrold Bloom. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2009, p. 87.
  34. ^ a b c Carby, Hazel. "The Politics of Fiction, Anthropology, and the Folk: Zora Neale Hurston." Bloom's Interpretations - Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. Edited by Harrold Bloom. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2008, p. 23.
  35. ^ Bray, Rosemary L. "Renaissance for a Pioneer of Black Pride." The New York Times, 02 09, 1990.
  36. ^ Carby, Hazel. "The Politics of Fiction, Anthropology, and the Folk: Zora Neale Hurston." Bloom's Interpretations - Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. Edited by Harrold Bloom. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2008, p. 24.
  37. ^ Heffernan, Virginia. "A Woman on a Quest, via Hurston and Oprah." The New York Times. March 5, 2005. (accessed April 3, 2012).
  38. ^ Johnson, Maria J. "'The World in a Jug and the Stopper in [Her] Hand': Their Eyes Were Watching God as Blues Performance". African American Review, 32(3) 1998: 401-414. MLA International Bibliography. EBSCO. October 23, 2012.
  39. ^
  40. ^ Simmons, Ryan. "The Hierarchy Itself: Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God and the Sacrifice of Narrative Authority". African American Review 36.2 (Summer 2002): 181-93. Print.
  41. ^ Valby, Karen. "Review of film Their Eyes Were Watching God." Entertainment Weekly. November 25, 2005. (accessed March 28, 2012).
  42. ^ Heffernan, Virginia. "A Woman on a Quest, via Hurston and Oprah" The New York Times. March 4, 2005. (accessed April 5, 2012).
  43. ^
  44. ^ Itzkoff, Dave. "Radio Play of 'Their Eyes Were Watching God' Is Set" The New York Times, February 8, 2012. (accessed March 25, 2012).


  • "Eatonville" is a song by indie rockers The Samples, written by Andy Sheldon. The lyrics were influenced by Their Eyes Were Watching God. It appears on their fourth album, The Last Drag, released in 1993.
  • In China Mieville's short story collection Three Moments of an Explosion, the story "Watching God" repeatedly references Their Eyes Were Watching God, with several allusions to the famous first line ("Ships at a distance...").

Cultural references

  • In 1983, the graduate repertory Hilberry Theater at Wayne State University produced To Gleam It Around, To Show My Shine, which is based on Their Eyes Were Watching God. The play was written by Bonnie Lee Moss Rattner and directed by Von Washington.
  • In 1988, To Gleam It Around, To Show My Shine was produced by the Crossroads Theatre in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The production was enhanced by an award from The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts' Fund for New American Plays. Denise Nicholas played Janie, Novella Nelson played Pheoby. Rick Khan directed. Writing in The New York Times on October 16, 1988, in a review entitled "Luminous' Drama On Black Woman's Struggle", Alvin Klein said, of "the dialogue that is so pure and lyrical, it positively sings and pierces the heart. Out of an unutterably beautiful book, a luminous play has evolved."
  • In 2003, To Gleam It Around, To Show My Shine a.k.a. Eatonville was to have opened at the ATA (American Theatre for Actors) in co-production with Amas Musical Theatre and Sage Hill Productions, with a score composed by Wynton Marsalis. (see "Wynton Marsalis Pens Music for Rattner's 'Eatonville'", Playbill, August 21, 2003.)
  • Oprah Winfrey served as executive producer of the made-for-TV adaptation Their Eyes Were Watching God in 2005. Harpo Productions sponsored the film directed by Darnell Martin and with a screenplay written by Suzan-Lori Parks, Misan Sagay, and Bobby Smith, Jr. The show was broadcast on ABC on March 6, 2005, at 9 pm. Catering to its TV audience, the film largely avoided the more controversial themes of race, gender, and power. Karen Valby of Entertainment Weekly comments, "While the book chews on meaty questions of race and identity, the movie largely resigns itself to the realm of sudsy romance."[41] New York Times critic Virginia Heffernan writes, "the film is less a literary tribute than a visual fix of Harlequin Romance: Black Southern Series—all sensual soft-core scenes and contemporary, accessible language."[42]
  • In 2011, the novel was adapted into a radio play for BBC World Drama, dramatized by Patricia Cumper. The play first aired on February 19, 2011.[43]
  • In 2012, a live radio play performance of Their Eyes Were Watching God written by Arthur Yorinks was broadcast on February 29 and March 1 to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the book's publication.[44]

Adaptations for theater, film and radio

Instead, Hurston introduces a third way of achieving self-autonomy through Tea Cake. He represents an independence from reliance on communal validation, and instead serves as a mirror for Janie to discover her narrative power. In relation to the author's narrative power, Tea Cake is the epitome of a good reader, one that is receptive to the transformative message of the text. Language is the understanding and sharpening of one's identity while communication comes second. In Hurston's innovative narrative, she is attempting to fulfill the "ideal narrative", which is one that nurtures and changes both the reader and the author.[40]

  • In "The Hierarchy Itself: Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God and the Sacrifice of Narrative Authority," Ryan Simmons argues that Hurston made a statement against models of authority that supplant an oppressive system with other oppressive systems and offered an alternative. By models of authority, Simmons means the narrative voice of the author and Janie's narrative voice. Hurston represented the different ideologies of Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois through the characters of Logan Killicks and Joe ("Jody") Starks. Like Washington, Logan models the path of "gradual progress" that would not threaten the white-dominated sphere of power and Hurston presents his practices as a tradeoff between liberty and modest prosperity. Joe models the path advocated by Du Bois, which is one of assertion of dignity and less compromise. However, the issue shown by Joe's eventual isolation from the community dialogue he helped establish and Janie's overpowering of him through a usurpation of authority, Hurston shows that the weakness with Joe's approach is that it mirrors that of white suppression.
In addition to bringing up Janie's relationship with Jody, Bernard emphasizes how her relationships with her other husbands influenced her cognition. He points out the fact that Logan Killicks, Janie's first husband, mistreated her by severing any beginning form of self-construction by treating her as an infant. Bernard also brings forth the idea that Janie's construction of selfhood blossoms when Tea Cake, her third husband, allows her to participate in experiences unimaginable to her. While Logan Killicks gives her no opportunity of expressing herself, Jody overpowers her expressive voice; Tea Cake allows her construction of self to mature link between self construction and cognition. Bernard's main point therefore is that self-construction is influenced by cognition, that is, knowing, thinking, seeing and speaking are important to the construction of self in Zora Neale Hurston's novel.
The comment from Jody, Janie's second husband, attempts to suppress her voice and manipulate her thoughts. Rather than acting submissive to Jody, Janie for a brief moment contends with Jody by telling him how men misunderstand women. Jody fears that Janie's thinking will lead to her gaining more knowledge and naturally to speaking her mind, eventually leading to Janie achieving the power of knowledge to recognize and change the mistreatment and unfairness she has been receiving. Bernard proposes the idea that Jody's relationship with Janie represents society's assumption that women are of limited cognition. This assumption positions women in subservient roles that limit their ways of thinking, speaking, and seeing.
In a conversation with Jody, Janie defends 'womenfolk,' disagreeing with the sexist claim that God made men "different" because they turn "out so smart" (70). When she states that men "don't know half as much as you think you do," Jody interrupts her saying, 'you getting too moufy Janie... Go fetch me de checker-board and de checkers' (70-71) so that he and the other men could play (Bernard 9).
  • The article "The Cognitive Construction of the Self in Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God", by Patrick S. Bernard,[39] highlights the connection between the construction of self and cognition in Hurston's novel. According to Bernard, cognition is the inner essence of an individual that embodies the idea of "thinking, seeing, speaking, and knowing", but is often determined by one's exterior environment. Janie, the protagonist, uses her cognitive skills in order to find her identity and throughout the novel develops her cognition further. While Janie is living in a sexist society she continues to rise above her opposition specifically that of her three husbands. Bernard demonstrates this,
  • In Maria J. Johnson's article "'The World in a Jug and the Stopper in [Her] Hand': Their Eyes Were Watching God as Blues Performance," she states that Hurston's novel takes a similar structure and aesthetic to blues culture. Johnson also shows how the contrast of Hurston's images, such as the pleasure and pain dynamic of the bee, can be seen in songs by singers like Bessie Smith.[38]

Critical analysis

The New York Times‍ '​s Virginia Heffernan explains that the book's "narrative technique, which is heavy on free-indirect discourse, lent itself to poststructuralist analysis".[37] With so many new disciplines especially open to the themes and content of Hurston's work, Their Eyes Were Watching God achieved growing prominence in the last several decades. It is now firmly established in the literary canon.[33]

In 1978, Harper and Row leased its rights to Their Eyes Were Watching God to the University of Illinois Press. However, the printing was so profitable that Harper and Row refused to renew the leasing contract and instead reprinted its own new edition.[34] This new edition sold its total print of 75,000 in less than a month.[36]


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