Tag Archives: their eyes were watching god

Class and Structure

The texts Mrs. Dalloway, Untouchables, Their Eyes, and In Our Time are all completely different yet have a theme that runs throughout them. Throughout each one I noticed a reoccurring theme of social class and structure. Each one displays evident class differences and it affects the entire structure of the novel. Mrs. Dalloway Clarissa is consistently affected by social class; she is an upper class woman who hates where she is. She despises being wealthy and upper class because she doubts her decision to marry Richard the entire novel. In Untouchables Bakha is considered a lower class citizen, he is the one who cleans the system and keeps the place clean. He is the lowest of the low and the separation is evident. Their Eyes displays a black community. Already we see a social class separation especially when they had the flood that killed many people. The black men were forced to separate the whites and the black dead people from each other. In Our Time shows some social class differences through the way the different characters speak and where they live. It just shows so much evidence of social class differences and the theme is reoccurring throughout all the books.

Not only that but Mrs. Dalloway, Untouchables, and In Our Time there is a use of parataxis throughout the three.

Overhead to in Their Head

Heart of Darkness (1899) focused on imperialism and how it affects life in Africa through the perspective of Charles Marlow. In the story, most of the conflict was reflected externally and viewed through a narrator who had strong emotions towards the events but no lacked in focus on how it affected him, psychologically. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) marks a turn as even though everything is in third-person, the narration focuses on Stephen and both his internal and external conflicts as he grows up. This conflict even spills into the third-person narratives on many occasions. The progression that I have noticed is that the focus of the narrative started with a wider picture, where the narrator is not mentally attached to the story. Joyce’s novel marks a turn where character’s thoughts affect the delivery of the narration. This turn leads to novels like As I Lay Dying (1930) and Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937.) Both stories matter entirely because of the narrator. Faulkner’s novel is delivered with the focus on individual characters and how their thoughts directly affect their narrative. Hurston, on the other hand, still had a third-person perspective, for the most part, but the story was still Janie’s. Every emotion that she felt, whether conflicting or not, is there to be heard. As time progresses, the stories go from character driven to being the characters.

The Differences in Communities

  • Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf (1925)
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston (1937)
  • Whose Body, Dorothy Sayers (1923)
  • As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner (1930)

All these works represent community and social gatherings shown through different cultures and social levels.

The novel Mrs. Dalloway and Their Eyes Were Watching God explicitly portray social gatherings through the meetings of crowds of people whether it is out on the street or outside on the porch of one’s house. During those gatherings the crowd is left to ponder about a situation they are encountering or about a person. In Mrs. Dalloway, the crowds all gather to find out what the loud crash sound was. In Their Eyes Were Watching God the women all gather around the porch to gossip about Janie and the return of her presence sans partner.

Along, with those two novels, the novel As I Lay Dying features a small community of a family and the novel Whose Body features a community of people trying to solve the mystery. Through these four novels, they represent a different version of community.

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.

Nature Begins the Story

She was stretched on her back beneath the pear tree soaking in the alto chant of the visiting bees, the gold of the sun and the panting breath of the breeze when the inaudible voice of it all came to her. She saw a dust-bearing bee sink into the sanctum of a bloom; the thousand sister-calyxes arch to meet the love embrace and the ecstatic shiver of the tree from root to tiniest branch creaming in every blossom and frothing with delight. So this was marriage! She had been summoned to behold a revelation. (Hurston 11)

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

This passage marks the beginning of Janie’s passage into womanhood. Before she kisses Johnny Taylor, Janie has a “revelation” that marriage is much like nature, in the way that everything fits together in a “love embrace.” There is a sense of happiness coming from the way that the sun and the breeze speak to her in a way that teaches her about a human system such as marriage. What makes this very important is that it establishes her naivety very immediately before throwing her into a forced marriage. Given we are already given a foreshadow that her relationships do not work out, it is possible that her original view of marriage is the best one in that it is natural, as compared to the relationships she ends up paired with.

Hurston’s style of narrative

“The cooling palma christi leaves that Janie had bound about her grandma’s head with a white rag had wilted down and become part and parcel of the woman. Her eyes didn’t bore and pierce. They diffused and  melted Janie, the room and the world into one comprehension.

“Janie, youse uh ‘oman, now, so – ”

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God New York: HarperCollins Publishers. 2000. Print. pp. 18

I noticed that Hurston’s style of narrative is split. There is one third-person voice that is highly intellectual with descriptive imagery and metaphors. The other voice is one that is in African American Vernacular English as shown in the dialogue above. I think that this particular style of narrative is important as it actually shows the division of the language on paper. Hurston may want us to realize how important language and how two different styles of narrative can be put together to tell a story.

Extended Metaphor

So Janie waited a bloom time, and a green time and an orange time. But when the pollen again gilded the sun and sifted down on the world she began to stand around the gate and expect things. What things? She didn’t know exactly. Her breath was gusty and short. She knew things that nobody had ever told her. For instance, the words of the trees and the wind.

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006. p.25. Print.

The narration makes a differentiation between the dialect shown in dialogue and the use of standard English in the narration. What doesn’t change is the sort of metaphors used by Janie; here, the narration continues to use Janie’s extended metaphor of trees in bloom that stands for female sexuality.