Essay, Research Paper: Hurston Novels

Literature: Their Eyes Were Watching God

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The Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s is a great time for black artists; it is
a rebirth of art, music, books and poetry. In Zora Neale Hurston’s novel Their
Eyes Were Watching God Janie, the protagonist, is treated kindly for a black
women. She does not go through the torment of black culture during that era or
the previous eras. Throughout the book Hurston “fibs” about racial
oppression. Janie gets respect by the white people she encounters. Hurston makes
the reader imagine that African-American life is easygoing. Richard Write’s
critique of Their Eyes Were Watching God is accurate and therefore, the book
should not be included in the Harlem Renaissance. Hurston breaks several of the
themes of the Harlem Renaissance. One in particular is to make other Americans
aware of the African-American experience. Richard Write states, “Their eyes,
as a novel, exploits those quaint aspects of Negro life that satisfied the
tastes of a white audience. It did for literature what the minstrel show did for
theater, that is, made white folks laugh”(1). Write, as a critic, fulfills his
duty to critique literature truthfully. In Hurston’s novel she rarely states
anything about the reality of the South at that time. ‘”Brothers and
sisters, since us can’t never expect tuh better our choice, Ah move dat we
make Brother Starks our Mayor until we can see further”’(40). In this
passage Hurston uses a soft pleasant type of diction. In that south at the time,
people were not accepted into towns if they were new to the area. Jody,
Janie’s second husband, takes charge and becomes the mayor. The people in the
novel respect Jodie and Janie. Being a black man and also the mayor seems a
little strange for the South. Most white people of the South dislike black
people because most black people are thought to be only “slaves” even though
slavery was abolished. Towards the end of the novel Janie is on trial for the
murder of Tea Cake, who is Janie’s third husband. ‘“We find the death of
Vergible Woods to be entirely accidental and justifiable, and that no blame
should rest upon the defendant Janie Woods”’(179). Janie is found not guilty
for the murder of her husband. The reader thinks that Janie is really lucky. She
is, but in history books black people are always guilty in every single trial.
It is unheard of that a white jury could find a black person not guilty. Janie
accepts that although she is not white; she still gets respect by everyone in
the town. For the duration of the book Hurston does not write to protest racial
oppression. This breaks yet another theme of Harlem Renaissance writing. She
discusses black life as if it were the same as white life. She neglects to
mention any information to protest racial oppression. Hurston does this by
writing a melodious novel; it is very appealing to the reader. ‘”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?”’(2). In this passage
Hurston appeals to the reader. She is trying to use pleasant vernacular while
getting her point across. No where does Hurston attempt to state any opposition
to racial oppression. Again, she is making the book sound like black culture is
effortless and simple. ‘”Tea Cake, Ah ‘clare Ah don’t know whut tuh make
outa you. You’se so crazy. You better lemme fix you some breakfast”’(102).
This sounds exactly like a normal white person conversation. Most blacks of that
era could only dream about the getting breakfast in morning. In tradition most
blacks would wake up on cold hard earth and go straight to work, and yet Hurston
disregards to state reality. Even though the book is fiction, it must obey the
three themes of the Harlem Renaissance. Racial oppression includes lynching and
Hurston does not express these racist actions. In the course of the novel Janie
does not receive much punishment from any people, and the punishment she does
receive is not severe. The only time she is hurt is when Tea Cake beats her to
show the town that he is the boss. ‘”Good evenin’, Mis’ Starks,” he
said with a sly grin as if they had a good joke together. She was in favor of
the story that was making him laugh before she even heard it”’(90). This
does not sound like Hurston has written the truth about the South. This whole
book contains more fiction than non-fiction. Therefore critiques should ignore
this book in the Harlem Renaissance. Hurston’s uncontrollable desire to ignore
the real truth about racial oppression has left her book in the dark during the
Harlem Renaissance. Life for Janie is real light and not very tedious. She goes
through life with no major conflicts that portray black traditional life. Her
problem only includes her troubles with her various husbands. Other than that
she does not confront any real known problems that blacks had at that time.
‘”Don’t need tuh ast me where Ah been all dis time, ‘cause it’s mah
all day job tuh tell yuh”’(115). In this particular passage, Tea Cake is
very nice to Janie after coming home to a hard days work. His tone and diction
is very mellow. The rest of the book is like this quote as well, where Tea Cake
and Janie do not have any harsh conflicts, or they do not have any conflicts
with the other people of the town. “She handed over the cigarettes and took
the money. He broke the pack and thrust one between his full, purple
lips”(91). In this excerpt Janie treats Tea Cake with respect and dignity,
something that was not commonly done back in Janie’s time, and Tea Cake gives
that respect and dignity back to Janie. A woman of Janie’s time could not have
been or given respect when she has a lot more to worry about than giving respect
to an another black man. But Janie has to give that same respect to any white
person in reality. Yet in the book Janie treats blacks and whites as equals; a
rare thing at that time. Another passage that shows the reader that Hurston
refuses to state the truth about life is, ‘”But Nanny, Ah wants to want him
sometimes. Ah don’t want him to do all de wanting”’(22). In this quote
Hurston tries to tell the reader that Janie can love and cherish someone, and
someone can treasure and love Janie back. Janie has a lot more to worry about
than loving somebody. She has to learn the value of her life. Most blacks of
Janie’s time get treated badly. Janie is a very lucky person. She is on the
top of the world she does not go through the harsh environment that her fellow
brothers and sisters go through. Hurston breaks the three most important rules
of the Harlem Renaissance: to protest racial oppression, to make other Americans
aware of the African-American experience, and to define and exalt the
African-American heritage experience. Hurston takes no time to include these
three major themes of the rebirth. Janie is treated like a white woman of the
time. Hurston does not include any evidence of racial oppression. She makes
black life seem comfortable and pleasant. All of this adds up to a potent
argument and that is why Their Eyes Were Watching God should be exiled from the
Harlem Renaissance.
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