Their Eyes Were Watching God

by Zora Neale Hurston

“The years took all the fight out of Janie’s face. For a while she thought it was gone from her soul.”

First published in 1937, Their Eyes Were Watching God documents Janie Crawford’s quest for selfhood. Set in the American South, Hurston deploys a black rustic dialect in her attempt to realistically portray rural black communities in the early 1900s. Janie, the protagonist, experiences multiple marriages and encounters many hardships and tragedies throughout the novel. Often characterized as fiercely independent, Janie struggles to overcome the patriarchal impositions and expectations that aim to mold her into a dutiful and submissive housewife. Set in the American South in the early 20th century, the novel highlights the social and cultural dictates of male domination and control over women that pervades the rural black communities Hurston represents.

Questions:
  • Where are moments in the text that you see violence against women sanctioned or idealized by either male or female characters?

 

  • In the black rural communities depicted in the novel, what are the views or beliefs regarding marriage? How is male domination accepted as an essential feature of romantic relationships in the text?

 

  • How would you characterize Janie? Is she as fiercely independent and defiant as the novel may propose? Is she a heroine or merely another woman trapped in a treacherous patriarchal system?

 

  • How would you characterize each of Janie’s three husbands? Which one do you like/dislike most? Why?

 

  • What kinds of psychological manipulation are used by men to control women? Are women guilted into submission at certain points?