Tag Archives: zora neale hurston

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.

Ideas of Acceptance

One theme that runs through some of the books we’ve read is acceptance by normalcy; who is publicly accepted and not judged for what they are.   This them is present within “Heart of Darkness”, “Melanctha”, “Mrs. Dalloway”, and “Their Eyes were Watching God”.

“The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.”  (Conrad 5)

“Rose Johnson was careless and was lazy, but she had been brought up by white folks and she needed decent comfort. Her white training had only made for habits, not for nature” (Stein 1)

” ‘Let us go on, Septimus,’ … People must notice; people must see.” (Woolf 15).

“‘What she doin’ coming back here in dem overhalls? Can’t she find no dress to put on?—Where’s dat blue satin dress she left here in?—Where all dat money her husband took and died and left her?—What dat ole forty year ole ’oman doin’ wid her hair swingin’ down her back lak some young gal?t'” (Hurston)

In Heart of Darkness and Melanctha, which were published in 1899 and 1909, people that don’t measure up to the ideas of public acceptance are people of color; Rose’s “white training” elevates her, and in Heart of Darkness, it’s made clear that conquest once required taking from those with a different complexion.  Later in 1925, Septimus Warren Smith of Mrs. Dalloway, is having shell shock while his wife worries that people are watching him, because even as a veteran, having any kind of problem in public is considered unacceptable.  By the time we reach Hurston’s work in 1937, he main character Janie is judged by the public simply because they do not know things about her.

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.

Hurston and Language

“There is a basin in the mind where words float around on thought and thought on sound and sight. Then there is a depth of thought untouched by words, and deeper still a gulf of formless feeling untouched by thought. Nanny entered this infinity of conscious pain again on her old knees. Towards morning she muttered, ‘Lawd, you know mah heart. Ah done de best Ah could do. De trest is left to you.'”

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God New York: HarperCollins Publishers. 2000. Print. pp. 35

Here it is interesting how Hurston juxtaposes the language of the narrator with that of the character’s dialogue and suggests how inner thoughts are not always mirrored in outer speech.

Genesis in Their Eyes Were Watching God

     “Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.
Now, women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.”

Neale Hurston, Zora. Their eyes were watching God. Harper Perennial Modern Classics Edition, 2006. 1.

It’s interesting how this passage starts off with the division of men and women. It shows how dreams are interpreted to men and how they are for women. The beginning of the book starts off as Genesis when they describe the fall of man and woman. It shows the difference between men and women and stresses on the dreams that they each hold.

The use of language to emphasize the difference of race and class

“‘What she doin coming back here in dem overhalls? Can’t she find no dress to put on?–Where’s dat blue satin dress she left here in?–Where all dat money her husband took and died and left her?–What dat le forty year ole ‘oman doin’ wid her hair swingin’ down her back lak some young gal?–Where she left dat young lad of a boy she went off here wid?–Thought she was going to marry?–Where he left her?–What he done wid all her money? Betcha he off wid some gal so young she ain’t even got no hairs–why she don’t stay in her class?–‘”

Neale Hurston, Zora. Their eyes were watching God. Harper Perennial Modern Classics Edition, 2006. 2.

This passage was interesting because it was the first time Zora Neale Hurston used dialect to immerse the reader into the perspective of the character. The way the character talks is not standard English and in fact she uses a different language to show the reader the difference in class and race. The use of language reminds me of the novel “Untouchable” as well because Bhaka always had traces of his own language in combination with English to show the reader how he was different from an English person.

Zora Neale Hurston’s use of language

“You know if you pass some people and don’t speak tuh suit ’em dey got to go way back in yo’ life and see whut you ever done. They know mo’ ’bout yuh than you do’ yo’ self. An envious heart makes a treacherous ear. They done “hear” ’bout you just what they hope done happened.”

Neale Hurston, Zora. Their eyes were watching God. Harper Perennial Modern Classics Edition, 2006. p5.

I think it’s interesting to see how the saying is written with no grammatical/spelling errors and included in a dialogue that reproduces a slangy language. I think it somehow reflects the constant shift between slangy dialogues and well written prose.