Afro-American Literature is a canon of literature which is mainly the works of writers from the African descent. It traces its history back in the 18th century, and most of the fiction works are very powerful texts carrying much of the American history in them. This is because most of the work began during the era of Harlem renaissance, racism, and the formation of the Negroes movement. The writers were therefore presenting their protest literature to the public, with the purpose of changing the society. “Their Eyes were Watching God” is one of the texts which were written during that time, and Hurston succeeds in presenting the “black protest” literature. The essay offers an analysis of the text in reference to other African American literary works.
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“Their Eyes Were Watching God” is an inspiring and motivating piece of literature. This is as a result of Hurston’s powerful use of symbolism in the whole text, in developing her plot. The symbolism hence gives a rich story on the protagonist “Janie.” Hurston presents a novel which fits to be read by any human being because of the creativity. It is a touching story which revolves around the life of a young woman, and the tough journey she undergoes through out her life time. It is a book which speaks to women as well as those who at one point of life experience hardships and strife, with one motif that; there is always light at the end of the tunnel.
Janie was a granddaughter and a daughter of women who had been raped, something which explains how the black women had to go through some tough moments. Additionally, she goes through very tough times in life but she struggles and has the strength to sail through life successfully. The author is considered as a writer of African American Classics, and she succeeds in presenting life’s urgent experience in a matter of weeks. Hurston presents the cruel environment and happenings which the blacks had to live with as a “norm” just because they had nothing to do about it. Her main inspiration to write the text was a way of empowering women, and telling them indirectly that “where there is a will there is a way.” It is a voice to the ladies, and also the blacks, calling them for an immediate action. This is because Hurston had experienced much racism and slavery, and she knew that the black women lacked the urgency in acting, and therefore chose to voice the concerns through some protest literature (Gates & McKay 1173).
A lot of rich symbolism is used in the novel to convey the message. Hurston narrates and gives a clear picture of a young teenage girl (Janie) and how she sails through life to becoming a successful woman in a society where women have no say; “Yes she would love Logan after they were married. She could see no way for it to come about, but Nanny and the old folds had said it, so it must be so” through symbolism (Hurston 21). There are a variety of symbols in the text, but the most significant one is “Janie’s journey” which runs through the entire book and wraps up the whole story. She moves from Eatonville to Florida, and again back to Eatonville all along in search for some “spiritual satisfaction.” The journey is self-centered, and each location gives her a different facet of life. The locations teach her new things and give her hope for struggle and how to overcome. This fills her with determination to achieve what she wants in future (Gates & McKay 1173).
The text succeeds in presenting the issues of racism which was the major theme of concern for most of the black writers of the time. Other writers like Gwendolyn brooks and Richard Wright tackled the same theme, which later paved way for others like Alice walker and her novel “The color Purple.” The novel explains well on what it really means to be an African American in an American society, and the role which was played by the African Americans. It deeply portrays how the African Americans and the blacks quest for freedom and their rights, for such a long period. The author chooses to use motifs to tackle the issues at hand in the society (Curren 3-9).
Hurston uses several motifs to advance her story. Motifs are recurring literary devices which are often used in advancing a narrative/ story. Hurston uses the community, relationships and God as the motifs in the story, which help in portraying her themes. Through relationships, the author for instance is able to explain the notion that enlightenment calls for combined efforts. She tries to tell the audience that men and women need each other for survival without oppression whatsoever. Janie’s independence is a moral that independence can lead to success depending on how it is managed because even though Janie is alone at the end, she is contented and succeeds, after talking to Tea Cake. The community is another motif which helps in passing the message. Janie interacts with it frequently, and yearns for the social life. After the hurricane, the characters sit in shanties, meaning they have something in common. They share the disappointment that the hurricane was so overwhelming. Hurston says that the community requires a strong will like Janie, who stands strong even though there is a lot of gossip around her (Wall 84).
Race is used as a motif which Hurston uses in advancing the theme of racism. Racism in the text serves as a constructor of the society. From chapters “19 and 16”, readers are meant to understand that racism is something which people can eradicate, and that it is a force which is not permanent. All the same it drives Janie to achieve her desires in life as a black woman. Janie says, “Ah was born back due in slavery so it wasn’t for me to fulfill my dreams of whut a woman oughta be and to do. Dat’s one of de hold-backs of slavery. But nothing can’t stop you from wishin” (Hurston 21).â€Ž Religion as a motif is used as the stepping block to success. Janie and her fellow blacks have nothing to do other than remain “Watching God” (Curren 3-9).
Hurston therefore tries to depict the lives of the American and African American women, and how the 20th century brought new changes. She creates a masterpiece of her own character and explains how she searches for her identity all through the novel. She shows how women would be derailed by “their owners” and mistreated by being raped hence their reason to search for their identity. Janie becomes the sole light for the other characters, and chooses to head on until she gets the freedom and leads a life of her wish, for having chosen to listen to the wind and trees. This means that she was not ready for any disruptions from the other characters (Wall 84).
In conclusion, Hurston presents a great novel which is very attractive and enlightening. It broadens the reader’s humanity and arouses their imagination. The insights do comfort and console the reader to some extend, and that is why some critics would call the text “The Big Read.” Although some critics call it a feminist book, it is a very compelling story rich in symbolism and imagery, and which ought to be credited for that. The author succeeds in presenting the history of the African American women and their fate in the American society. Through the protagonist “Janie,” it is clear that “Their Eyes Were Watching God” all the characters’ hopes were on their God, who would be their savior and comforter in their lives. At the end God actually delivers them (Gates & McKay 1173.
Curren, Erik D. Should Their Eyes Have Been Watching God? Hurston’s Use of
Religious Experience and Gothic Horror. African American Review, Vol. 29, 1995.
Gates, Henry Louis & Nellie Y. McKay. The Norton anthology of African American
literature. Edition 2. W.W. Norton & Co., 2004.
Hurston, Zora N. & Jerry Pinkney. Their Eyes Were Watching God. University of
Illinois Press, 1991.
Wall, Cheryl A. Zora Neale Hurston’s Their eyes were watching God: a casebook.
Oxford University Press US, 2000.
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