Throughout the first ten pages of the novel the narrator describes the setting and places two old friends, Janie and Pheoby, in a conversation on a front porch. Pheoby asks Janie about Tea Cake. Janie provides a vague response, but when she realizes that Pheoby is ready to listen and understand Janie begins her life story, starting with a description of her childhood. This narrative strategy is used effectively so readers can understand events of Janie’s life that make her think and behave in certain ways. Chapter two continues mostly in form of Janie’s dialogue. At this point, I was worried that the entire novel was written in Janie’s dialogue, which is not easy to read because of her improper speech patterns. The dialogue is broken into paragraphs based on Janie quoting other people and the development of new thoughts. Then, on page 11, there are two shifts in narrative voice, the first shift goes back to the original narrator that described the women sitting on the porch, “Pheoby’s hungry listening helped Janie to tell her story…the night time put on flesh and blackness.” This paragraph is used to once again show the women sitting on the porch and that the story of Janie’s life continues. Then, the next paragraph shifts to a new narrator, “She thought awhile and declared that her conscious life commenced at Nanny’s gate. On a late afternoon Nanny had called her to come inside the house because she had spied Janie letting Johnny Taylor kiss her over the gatepost.” If this narrator were to be physically present in the novel he/she would be sitting on the porch, listening to the women’s conversation. This narrator does not actually know the events and details of Janie’s past, he/she only knows as much as Janie discloses. The narrator listens to Janie’s story and translates it into a more comprehensive and intelligable writing. It is evident that the narrator does not know what happened in Janie’s past before Janie says so because the narrator says “She thought a while and declared.” Janie is the person who declared that her concious life began then, not the narrator. The narrator does not have the knowledge or the authority to say, “Janie’s concious life commenced at Nanny’s gate.” Upon reading this paragraph I was relieved that Janie’s story would not be entirely reveled in her dialogue!
Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006. Print.