Tag Archives: hurston

In the mind of self and other

Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf (1925)
As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner (1930)
Untouchable, Mulk Raj Anand (1935)
Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston (1937)

Each of these novels deal with the common connection between the expression of some sort of self, whether it be their individual self or the self of some group they identify with, and the other, which is a group that they are facing that is different from themselves; it could be a cultural, social, class, or another difference that varies from their own. In these modernism works, there is continuity of how the readers are given the story from different perspectives that in some way have or form a relationship or purpose between the characters. In Mrs. Dalloway there is constantly the jump from one perspective to another, sometimes without there every being a clear distinction who’s perspective you are getting, but forming a blurred connection between characters and events, such as between Mrs. Dalloway and Septimus. In As I Lay Dying, it is made clear whose perspective you are getting with each section titled with their name, but with this clarity comes a different way the characters connect with each other, and in this case almost suggests and defines the separation of experiences of each character as their own, yet all brought on by a specific event, Addie’s death. In Untouchable there is the distinct separation between the Indians and the Europeans they come into contact with; particularly with Bakha, who knows the Indian world, yet supports the ideas and concepts of the European world there is the constant cross of concepts and ideals between each group for him as he tries to make sense of who he is and what he should follow. Finally, in Their Eyes Were Watching God the reader is given the story from mainly Janie’s perspective, yet we see her struggles through life dealing with how she is learning to define herself amongst different ranks of blacks in society; we see her mind and thoughts as she navigates through one relationship to the next.

Experience, Race, and Gender in Fiction

Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899), Stein’s Melanctha (1909), Anand’s Untouchable (1935), and Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) all explore the relationship of class and race. Through the 38 year span in which these novels were published, the gradual expression of race relations changes drastically.  Conrad explores the racial tensions tied to imperialism through Marlow’s close observation of Mr. Kurtz.  Stein stays close to home in her interperspective novel Melanctha, yet ties gender and class together while still depicting an ethnic alternative lifestyle.  Anand, while his novel was published much later, gives the audience a sense of what life is in India’s harsh caste system.  Untouchable explores class closely, but to an English audience, which introduced them to a world other than post-WWI American society.  Finally, Hurston thoroughly captures the relations of gender and race together in Janie Stark.  The novel focuses on her tribulations, instead of a broad sociological effects, allowing the harsh scenes of domestic abuse to expose hidden inequalities other than race.  Over time, fiction writers presented more topics that were not necessarily common knowledge, bringing them to the public eye.  While tackling cultural obstacles is nothing new in writing, the modernists relied on firsthand experience,  allowing for more raw, realistic stories that related to the audience.

Disparity only changes it’s face.

One of the greatest topics that I have noticed being covered by nearly every work we have read is that of class.  Anand’s Untouchable (1935), Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) , Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying (1925)  and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899), illustrate to us that through the years, no matter the location or specific group of characters, class continues to be a factor of major importance and intrigue.

There is a clear continuity in class distinction and disparity throughout each of these novels, with no clear resolution through time. For instance, while in 1899, Imperialism is shown in spades throughout Heart of Darkness, it is still an issue (although in a different location), in Untouchable. Not only do these two show class disparity, but also inequality in both race and cultures.

As I Lay Dying and Their Eyes Were Watching God reveal a slightly different form of class disparity, in that they don’t revolve around themes of one group of people AGAINST another, but are more revealing in their disparity through the largely missing discussions of these disparities. The reveal is through ignorance rather than understanding.

Over the difference of 38 years, we can see that the face of disparity changes, but it’s power and overall grip on societies, does not. No matter the location, or the cultures and classes involved, this continues to be a problem throughout the world. It’s so interesting to see it from so many points of view, and each authors different style helps to bring us closer to these people that we may never have considered otherwise. Historically, the significance is quite clear, even when the issues never quite get resolved. We cannot make changes if they aren’t consistent

Historical Timeline

Three Lives (“Melanctha”) by Stein was published in 1909. In Our Time by Hemingway and Mrs. Dalloway by Woolf was published in 1925. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Hurston was published in 1937. As we discussed during the beginning of the semester, these texts would be labeled under the modernist movement. However, modernism is just the umbrella; each text has its own individual way of breaking away from the “norms.” Interestingly enough, “Melanctha” and Their Eyes Were Watching God have some similarities such as the black vernacular that is used. However, the reader must keep in mind that the ethnicity of the authors are different, which may impact the analytical aspect of the stories. In Our Time and Mrs. Dalloway share more similarities than differences: 1) both texts were published the same year and 2) while Hemingway’s text possesses elements of masculinity, Woolf’s text can arguably posses elements of feminism.

Dialogue in Hurston

“Don’t think Ah don’t feel wid you Janie, ’cause Ah do. Ah couldn’t love yuh no more if Ah had uh felt yo’ birth pains mahself. Fact uh de matter, Ah ives yuh a whole heap more’n Ah do yo’ moms, de one Ah did birth…” (15)

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006. Print.

Something I found very interesting was the dialogue in the novel. It’s actually a bit difficult to read but I like the way Hurston writes it because it makes it very realistic and believable. It actually makes it a bit easier if the dialogue is read out loud but regardless of how difficult it may be, I think it’ pretty authentic and I like that.

Social Dynamics

“The people all saw her come because it was sundown…It was the time to hear things and talk. These sitters had been tongueless. earless, eyeless conveniences all day long. Mules and other brutes had occupied their skins. But now, the sun and the bossman were gone, so the skins felt powerful and human. They became lords of sounds and lesser things” (p. 1).

Hurston, Zora N. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York: Perennial Library, 1990. Print.

The reason this passage is so interesting is that it sets up a generalized, yet detailed account of this community. It expresses the social dynamics of the community.

Hurston and Use of Language

“Freedom found me wid a baby daughter in mah arms, so Ah said Ah’d take a broom and a cook-pot and throw up a highway through the wilderness for her. She would expound what Ah felt.”

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006. Print.

The above passage is unique in that it depicts the way in which Hurston uses African American Vernacular English in the dialogue between the characters while also using vocabulary that would remove the possibility of creating any caricatures of the characters. She also manages to do this in the way she gives the character dialogue more depth than the narration. Though the narrator reveals much of the internal world of the characters, the character dialogue gives more insight into each of the character’s inner feelings and philosophical pondering than the narrator is able to convey.

“The Big House”

“The rest of the town looked like servants’ quarters surrounding the “big house”. And different from everybody else in the town he put off moving in until it had been painted, in and out. And look at the way he painted it- a gloat, sparkly white.”

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006. Print. 47

The fact that this passage is focalized by the narrator gives the affect that the narrator is speaking the popular opinion of the townsfolk. This passage is centered around class distinction and separation, as shown by the act of painting the house. The narrator explicitly states, “different from everyone else in town” in order to single out Jody as being akin to grandeur, showing tendencies of a higher class. Plus the fact that the townspeople refer to Jody’s house as the “big house” and the emphasis on it being painted “gloaty, sparkly white” are both allusions to the days of slavery.