Identity Establishment In The Novel Their Eyes Were Watching God By Zora Neale Hurston

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Within the novel Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, Janie Crawford, the main protagonist, takes herself through a journey to establish her identity and find herself. The journey that Janie is on is moreso a means for her to find herself, which expertly articulates feminism in a period that does not listen to the voices of women. Zora Hurston, The author, parallels both Janie’s pathway in life along with her desire to have self fulfillment and control. This leads to the overall idea that Their Eyes Were Watching God is moreso of an establishment of Identity rather than a fictional masterpiece by Hurston. Zora Hurston, with the purpose of projecting Janie Crawford’s establishment of identity and control, uses literary elements to seemingly project herself into the story.

The three main aspects of Hurston’s (and Janie’s) lives will be looked at thoroughly through a number of examples. While there can be numerous amounts of claims that can be made, the three that I have chosen are seemingly more important than the rest, and draw forth meaning from Zora Hurston when looked into deeper. The first connection between the two is the comparison between Hurston’s father, John Hurston, and Jody Starks, the mayor of Eatonville in the novel. As for John Hurston, out of twenty-seven African American men that had founded Eatonville to begin with, he was one of the twenty-seven, and ended up “…serving as mayor for three terms” (‘Communities’). This is a clear an obvious parallel with Jody Starks who, as I had mentioned previously, served as mayor of Eatonville in the novel for a short time. The second connection made between Hurston and Janie is that they had both lived through and experienced the tragedies of a hurricane. While Zora Hurston was visiting the Caribbean islands to pursue her dream with anthropology, “She experienced a violent hurricane, which later became the climax to Their Eyes Were Watching God.” (“Communities.”) Lastly, due to her desire for free schooling, “she took off 10 years of her own life– giving her an age of 16 and the year of her actual birth as 1901” (“About Zora.”) This important part of Zora’s life is easily paralleled again in Janie Crawford’s own as in the novel it says, “The worst thing Ah ever knowed her to do was taking a few years offa her age.” (Hurston.) This parallel between both Zora and Janie, in relation with literary elements, displays Hurston’s desires in writing this novel in order to reflect her own lifestyle which was an establishment of identity.

The first major connection between Hurston and Janie is the desire to have their voices be heard. This is seen through both the real and fictional mayor of Eatonville. Juxtaposition is one literary element used that does well to demonstrate this connection throughout the novel. In a quote from Jody Starks, the mayor of Eatonville within the novel itself, he says “Somebody got to think for women and chillum and chickens and cows. I god, they so don’t think none theirselves.” (Hurston.) This main quote is juxtaposition between the ‘women’ and ‘chickens and cows.’ This highlights an obviously sexist narrative that attempts to correlate the minds of farm animals and women, which also implies that women do not have the ability to have subconscious thought and need a man to do this for them. While this is inherently inaccurate, during this time period in the novel that kind of thought process was common and women faced these challenges constantly. The lack of voice that Janie felt she had is clearly demonstrated through this juxtaposition. This can be related back to the real life mayor of Eatonville, Zora Hurston’s father. Whilst in Jacksonville, Florida, where, “not only did her father refuse to pay for her schooling but he asked her school to adopt her. By late 1905, she was out of school and had to make a living on her own or depend on her siblings for housing and food.” (“Communities.”) Hurston had almost no voice of her own, as her father blatantly ignored her after her mother’s death. Through Janie, however, Zora Hurston is able to conquer her feeling through the fictional world she has created.

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The second of major connections between both Zora Hurston and Janie Crawford is their desire to control their own lives, which is displayed by the fact that both of them have survived the hurricane and flood mentioned within the novel and in real life. Within the novel, this is displayed through the adaptation of personification. In the examination of Gordon E. Thompson, he determines that Zora’s use of “personification is manifested when a personality of “face” is given to a non sentient object and to an “absent power.” (Thompson, 741.) This definition of the word comes into play with this, “So the beginning of this was a women and se had come back from burying the dead. Not the dead of sick and ailing with friends at the pillow and feet. She had come back from the sodden and the bloated; the sudden dead, their eyes flug wide open in judgment.” (Hurston, 9.) Although this is further explained later within the novel, Thompson introduces this with with the main goal of making the comparison of the flood and the storm found within the novel; this is most specifically found within the personification of the water itself, “…the pursuing waters growled and shouted ahead, ‘Yes, Ah’m coming!” (Hurston, 240.) The personification of the waters puts an emphasis on her own thoughts within this serious and uncontrollable event, highlighting the weakness Hurston felt as she went through the same sort of tragedy. Personifying the uncontrollable storms and floods through Janie is Hurston’s way of signifying her desire to establish her own identity. Hurston’s desire to establish this is similarly displayed through Janie, as they both look to make sure that their voices are heard among a crowd of others.

The final connection between Zora Hurston and Janie Crawford within the novel Their Eyes Were Watching God is the ambiguous identity of the both of them, which demonstrates further how the lack of feminism and empowerment affected both the nonfiction and fictional. Hurston’s utilization of age as a motif is extremely important in establishing a connection in the novel. As explained previously on page 2, the actual age of the two are seemingly ambiguous to the reader, especially with Janie as it is revealed that she had lied, along with Hurston lying about it within her own life. The difference of age between both Janie Crawford and Zora Hurston is passed off without much second thought, and this leads to the idea that growing old was never a concern to Hurston’s life, and also with Janie’s. This concept of age not having an effect on the lifestyle of both characters is emphasized even further through when Janie is talking to Jody in response to him bringing up her age. “Naw, Ah ain’t no young gal no mo’ but Ah ain’t no old woman neither. Ah reckon Ah looks mah age too. But Ah’m uh woman every inch of me, and Ah know it. Dat’s uh whole lot more’m you kin say.” (Hurston.) Janie emphasizes the fact that while she is not young anymore, she is still very much so a women and is able to keep in line with the motif of age not being relevant, in regard to feminism and the idea of empowerment. Another example of these age discrepancies is found in Janie’s relationship to Teacake. This is seen when she says, ‘Ah’m older than Tea Cake, yes. But he done showed me where it’s de thought dat makes de difference in ages. If people thinks de same they can make it all right. So in the beginnin’ new thoughts had tuh be thought and new words said. After Ah got used tuh dat, we gits ‘long jus’ fine. He done taught me de maiden language all over’ (Hurston). This example demonstrates that while Teacake is younger than her, it does not matter in the scheme of things, as the important part is that she feels happy within this relationship. This motif of age being a non-factor in Janie’s life is what leads into her now feeling empowered, which is Hurston’s desire in writing this. In conclusion, Hurston exemplifies her desires within Janie, in the form of self projection.

Hurston’s ability to use literary elements in a way that projects herself onto the fictional character of Janie in Their Eyes Were Watching God does well to emphasize her own desires. One desire explicitly mentioned is the desire for control over her own life, and the establishment of her own identity which is seen through the literary element of personification. This lack of ability for establishment is easily demonstrated in how Hurston exemplifies what is wanted, in terms of how she is able to control her own life in her own way. This is shown through Janie’s lack of ability to control the uncontrollable, the hurricane. Another obvious desire is shown through Hurston’s need for a voice of her own, which is displayed through the literary element of juxtaposition. Hurston, as mentioned above, was very much so ignored by her own father, the real mayor of Eatonville. This is obviously similar to how Janie was ignored by Jody Starks. Jody demonstrated that Janie, similar to farm animals like cows and chickens, should not have the ability to have sub-conscious thought. This was an allegory to Hurston’s desire for her own voice, which is obvious in how the two are comparable in both real life and fiction. Finally, the ambiguity of age through the novel was displayed by the literary element of motif, (specifically age.) Age is used through Hurston’s and Janie’s personal lives as a means of furthering education (Hurston) or to win over the heart of a man (Janie with Teacake.) This conclusively displayed that age was not a significant factor in Hurston’s point of view, and is also able to demonstrate that from this, it can lead to both characters feeling empowered. All in all, this leads to the overall idea that Their Eyes Were Watching God is moreso of an establishment of Identity rather than a fictional masterpiece by Hurston, as stated earlier. Zora Hurston uses literary elements to seemingly project herself into the story, with the purpose of projecting Janie Crawford’s establishment of identity and control.

Works Cited

  1. ‘About Zora Neale Hurston.’ The Official Zora Neale Hurston Website, web.archive.org/web/20090416185654/http://www.zoranealehurston.com/biography.html Accessed 12 Mar. 2019.
  2. ‘Communities.’ Zora Neale Hurston Digital Archive, chdr.cah.ucf.edu/hurstonarchive/?p=communities. Accessed 12 Mar. 2019.
  3. Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1937.
  4. Thompson, Gordon E. “Projecting Gender: Personification in the Works of Zora Neale Hurston.” American Literature, vol. 66, no. 4, 1994, pp. 737–763. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2927696.

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Identity Establishment In The Novel Their Eyes Were Watching God By Zora Neale Hurston. (2021, September 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 23, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/identity-establishment-in-the-novel-their-eyes-were-watching-god-by-zora-neale-hurston/
“Identity Establishment In The Novel Their Eyes Were Watching God By Zora Neale Hurston.” Edubirdie, 21 Sept. 2021, edubirdie.com/examples/identity-establishment-in-the-novel-their-eyes-were-watching-god-by-zora-neale-hurston/
Identity Establishment In The Novel Their Eyes Were Watching God By Zora Neale Hurston. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/identity-establishment-in-the-novel-their-eyes-were-watching-god-by-zora-neale-hurston/> [Accessed 23 May 2022].
Identity Establishment In The Novel Their Eyes Were Watching God By Zora Neale Hurston [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2021 Sept 21 [cited 2022 May 23]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/identity-establishment-in-the-novel-their-eyes-were-watching-god-by-zora-neale-hurston/
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