Their Eyes Were Watching God Literary Criticism

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In 1937, Nora Zeale Hurston published Their Eyes Were Watching God, a coming of age novel about Janie, a southern black woman and her experience through life along with her quest for love. This book has received a large number of reviews including ones from Richard Wright and Alain Locke. Wright argues ‘ that the characters in Hurston’s novel are simplistic. Furthermore, Locke suggests that Hurston should use her talent to write social documents instead of folklore fiction. However, I believe that Hurston should be able to write what she is in favor of.

Wright’s criticism of Hurston’s novel argues that Hurston’s novel has simple characters that lack development. I disagree with Wright’s argument. In my view, I am convinced that most characters in her novel are complex with deep psychological thoughts. When Joe became the mayor of Eatonville, he decided that the town needed a street lamp. After he installed the lamp, he held a ceremony and gathered everyone in the town to celebrate the advancements that have been made in the town.

To ensure that everyone knew the importance of the lamp, Joe gave a speech and told the townspeople, “De first street lamp in uh colored town. Lift yo’ eyes and gaze on it. And when Ah touch de match yuh dat lampwick let the light penetrate inside yuh, and let it shine, let it shine, let it shine” (Hurston 45). When Joe lights the lamps, he is implying that he’s the spark of the town that brings light, growth, and prosperity to Eatonville. He is also emphasizing the power that he has over the town, it conveys to me that Joe thinks he is like God.

He is acting like a God bringing light to the town even after the sun sets when there is no longer any natural lighting. Joe’s installment of the light exemplifies his desire to be in control, his greed for power and his ambitions. Additionally, he views Janie as an object rather than a wife, he forbids her from interacting with the townspeople. As a result of Joe’s success, he becomes condescending which later leads to the destruction of his self-esteem when Janie insulted his reproductive organ.

This opposes Wright’s argument considering that if Hurston’s characters are just surface level characters, Joe would only just be demonstrating simple traits of a greedy and power hungry man instead of his deeper inner feelings. Nevertheless, from Hurston’s writing about Joe, readers were able to unfold the more insecure and weaker side of Joe.

Unlike Wright, Locke dotes on Hurston’s novel, he compliments her use of rare dialect in her novels as well as the inner psychology of her characters. However, Locke believes that Hurston should use her talent to write social documents that would advocate social justice instead of writing folklore fictions. I disagree with Locke’s argument about what Hurston should be writing because I believe that she does not have to feel entitled to write about social issues if she does not want to. After Tea Cake’s funeral, Janie went back to Eatonville for the reason that the Everglades no longer has any meaning to her.

In a conversation she had with Pheoby, she spoke out about all of the insinuation circling her in the past years of being with Tea Cake by saying, “They don’t need to worry about me and my overalls long as Ah still got nine hundred in the bank. Tea Cake got me wearing em’-following behind him” (Hurston 7). Hurston’s use of clothing throughout the whole novel represented both her and Janie’s pursuit of self-identity.

I find Locke’s argument on Hurston’s use of her talent remarkably ironic. During Janie’s marriage with Joe, she was forced to dress fancy for the sake of her reputation as being the mayor’s wife but Janie prefers wearing her overalls than her fancy clothes. Locke is giving out an impression parallel to Joe’s. Considering that when Joe met Janie he was complimenting her beauty by calling her a doll yet when he married her he makes Janie wear fancy clothes rather than something she likes. He is implying that I like you but only if you act a certain way that fits my criteria, Locke is doing the same here with Hurston’s writing.

Locke dotes on Hurston’s novel furthermore compliments Hurston’s writing, but telling her that she should advocate for social justice and to discuss social issues in her books rather than to write what she truly wants is indicating that her choices are invalid. With Tea Cake, Janie was able to experience true love, satisfaction and self- expression. I think it is important that although Tea Cake also picked out an outfit for Janie but compared to Joe, the significance of the blue dress was to compliment Janie’s beauty, unlike the fancy outfits that stifle her self-identity.

Janie is aware of all the rumors and insinuations circling her. She was able to ignore them as well as finding herself and not allowing others to burden her self-expression. Like Janie, Hurston is aware of the racism going on at the time in America, she did not let expectations restrain her from writing what she is truly interested in.

In Richard Wright’s criticism of Hurston’s novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, he asserts that Hurston’s characters in her novel are basic and underdeveloped. Unlike Wright, Alain Locke dotes on her novel and compliments the well developed inner psychology of Hurston’s character, but he proposes that Hurston should use her gifted talent to discuss social issues and advocate for social justice instead. I disagree with both Wright and Locke’s argument due to the fact that Hurston’s characters display complex emotions and undergo a change throughout the novel.

Also, Hurston is not entitled to fulfill other people’s expectations of what or how she should write. It will only obstruct her self-expression and forbids her approach to happiness. I think it is important that both Wright and Locke’s argument are invalid because it proves that not everyone’s opinions reflect on how you would feel about a certain subject. Other people’s opinions might be helpful but only your experience will validify it for yourself.


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Their Eyes Were Watching God Literary Criticism. (2021, Jun 21). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/their-eyes-were-watching-god-literary-criticism/

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