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Representation of African Americans during the Harlem Renaissance in the Novel Their Eyes Were Watching God: Critical Analysis

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As humans, we might prefer to find others for comfort to feel like we belong, and over anything we want love. We would wish to be loved and to like another through our trials of life. This can be one of the many themes of the novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. The character Janie includes a desire for love which propels the events of the novel and her eventual self-improvement. Zora Neale Hurston’s, Their Eyes Were Watching God, is both a connection and a departure from the values of the Harlem Renaissance, and it demonstrates several themes of what African Americans possess. Zora Neale Hurston shows this throughout her work with the themes of racism, love, and self-improvement by showing the many strengths of blacks.

The Harlem Renaissance, happened between World War I and during the 1930s, and this was a way to change how American Culture looked at African Americans, and it changed the old negro race to a new transformed race. Throughout the novel, racism is a recurring theme. In Chapter 16, the Mrs. Turner is introduced. She is a black woman, who is extremely racist to her own people. She makes racist slurs when talking with Janie, who she later views as a category beyond herself due to Janie’s lighter skin. Mrs Turner states “Tub git hold of uh woman lak you. You got mo’ nerve than me. Ah jus’ couldn’t see myself married to no black man. It’s too many black folks already. We oughta lighten up the race.”(140). Racism also occurs when two armed white men order Tea Cake to assist burying the corpses of the hurricane victims. He sees that the white corpses are given coffins, but the negroes are thrown into holes and sprinkled with some quicklime. “Got orders from headquarters. They makin’ coffins fuh all de white folks. ‘Tain’t nothin’ but dat’s better’n nothin’…Nope. They cain’t find enough of ‘em tub go ‘round. Jus’ sprinkle plenty quick-lime over ‘em and cover ‘em up.”(171). Tea Cake is very surprised when he sees this and he was able to get a glimpse on what his society has become. This is not something that would be considered happy in the Harlem Renaissance or in all of society, and it is something that is considered a departure from the Harlem Renaissance. Later, there is a different opinion or conception on the negro race. At Jamie’s trial, she is found innocent by a white, male jury and the white audience gives her sympathy. In that time period that’s just unprecedented. Hurston’s use of this scene represents their acceptance of her race altogether. Not only was the negro woman seen as inferior to whites, she was also seen as compliant to the others.

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The Harlem Renaissance allowed blacks to be themselves either through art, music, or literature. Janie always wanted the pear tree, the proper marriage. In many people’s eyes, Janie is considered to be the ideal woman in Their Eyes Were Watching God. She later realizes this is not so. She becomes strong and doesn’t hold onto her thoughts or dreams, and she doesn’t mourn over things that she doesn’t feel for. When Joe died, she didn’t mourn his death, she just made it seem like she was mourning by wearing different clothes, even though she was happy on the inside. “She took careful stock of herself, then combed her hair and tied it back up again. Then she starched and ironed her face, forming it into just what people wanted to see, and opened up the window and cried, “Come heah people! Jody is dead. Mah husband is gone from me.”(87). She realizes that she is powerful, and she is able to choose her battles. Although she was mistreated by Joe Starks and Logan Killicks, Janie survived her two marriages, but they never really ended up suiting what she wanted in life. Joe Starks and Logan Killicks represent society’s constant abuse to Janie’s individuality. Tea Cake represents her freedom, a gate to opportunity, and thus the Harlem Renaissance. She is in a position to seek out love and happiness through Tea Cake, and this relates to the atmosphere of the Harlem Renaissance, no hostility and the freedom to like whoever you chose. African American literature helped with exposing black pride and individuality and the Harlem Renaissance provided opportunities to spread African American culture. Black authors, like Hurston, took advantage of those opportunities to mention their piece within the only way they knew how which was by writing. Both her choice of words helps her fine tune and elaborate the characters actions and the storyline, along with helping to symbolize the happy, and free life during the Harlem Renaissance.

Within the period of the book, men had power over most women, but eventually Janie doesn’t really listen to men’s orders, and she realizes she can be whoever she chooses and not what others want her to be. This relates to the Harlem Renaissance because blacks had to fight for their voice to be heard, and they had to fight for a new way of life. This is where Janie shined the most. She understood herself due to others round her. She learned to trust her own judgement and understand that she can be whoever she wanted to be and not be somebody she wasn’t.

Through each of her relationships, she develops her own desire for the sort of affection that she seeks. It’s through love and happiness that she truly feels that she may be a fulfilled woman. This novel is an accurate representation of African Americans during the Harlem Renaissance because it gives the reader a glimpse into what African Americans had to do to have a new life, and it shows that also love is the answer. Their Eyes Were Watching God describes the racial along with sexual hardships of society and it shows how you can change and do something new.

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Representation of African Americans during the Harlem Renaissance in the Novel Their Eyes Were Watching God: Critical Analysis. (2022, July 14). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 22, 2023, from
“Representation of African Americans during the Harlem Renaissance in the Novel Their Eyes Were Watching God: Critical Analysis.” Edubirdie, 14 Jul. 2022,
Representation of African Americans during the Harlem Renaissance in the Novel Their Eyes Were Watching God: Critical Analysis. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 22 Sept. 2023].
Representation of African Americans during the Harlem Renaissance in the Novel Their Eyes Were Watching God: Critical Analysis [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jul 14 [cited 2023 Sept 22]. Available from:
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