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Course Hero. "Their Eyes Were Watching God Study Guide." September 2, 2016. Accessed November 15, 2018.


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Their Eyes Were Watching God | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


In Their Eyes Were Watching God what role does violence play in the lives of the characters?

The use of violence surfaces several times in Their Eyes Were Watching God as a means for men to assert their voices and to control women. When Janie prepares a sub-par meal for Joe Starks, he slaps her. Later, when Tea Cake whips Janie, he does it to assert his voice and his claim to her in response to Mrs. Turner's attempts to get Janie to run off with her brother. This act is supported by the men in the community, as Sop-de-Bottom notes his approval by commenting that Janie's bruises are easy for all to see. Even the women in the town admire Tea Cake for his actions, because after beating her "he petted and pampered" her. The violence the black men inflict on their wives mirrors the controlling violence that the earlier generation of white slave owners inflicted on their slaves.

In Their Eyes Were Watching God how does the use of a divided voice support the themes of the story?

Janie's story is told through both an eloquent narrative voice and the vernacular voice of the characters. This use of what is known as a divided voice offers readers insight into the various modes of language through which Janie is able to construct her identity and come to a conscious awareness of her own story. Her voice is not one or the other, but rather the forming of a connection between her spoken vernacular and the language that might give voice to her thoughts. This endeavor may all be in service of satisfying that "gulf of formless feelings untouched by thought."

In Their Eyes Were Watching God how does the third-person point of view present the views of the community?

The third-person narrator presents a broader view of the actions and personalities of the characters than would be possible had a first-person narrator been used. While Janie's story dominates the narrative, she and her three husbands live in the social contexts of different communities. In Eatonville and the Everglades, in particular, the third-person narrator gives the reader details about others' reactions to or views about Janie, Starks, and Tea Cake that a first-person narrator could not realistically know. The effectiveness of this approach is established in the first chapter, when the Eatonville porch sitters comment on Janie's appearance and nature before readers have even met her, thus establishing an initial view of her that her own presentation of her story must be measured against.

In Their Eyes Were Watching God how does the use of a southern dialect give authority to the characters?

Having the characters speak in a southern dialect lends to the realism of the characters, the setting, and the time period. The language used by the people of Eatonville is a worthy vessel for complex meaning; at times, the characters engage in witty wordplay that often seeks to sort out philosophical questions. One example of this technique is in Chapter 6 when Sam, Lige, and Walter debate the relationship between Nature and Caution. In their native dialect, these men are negotiating complex meanings through word play. When asked to identify something that Nature hadn't made, the response is, "She ain't made it so you kin ride uh butt-headed cow and hold on tuh de horns." The rebuttal to this response, "Yeah, but dat ain't yo point," illustrates these men's ability to identify and reject logical fallacies. This kind of exchange subverts the position, maintained by whites, that this and other nonstandard English vernaculars signify a level of ignorance.

In Chapter 6 of Their Eyes Were Watching God, what does the scene where the unmarried men court Daisy suggest about gender roles and courting rituals?

In Chapter 6, the unmarried men of Eatonville engage in courtship when Daisy, a black woman who looks good in white, comes to the store. The narrator tells us that the men and women in this scene aren't engaging in actual courtship but rather acting out courtship. This comment reflects Zora Neale Hurston's training as an anthropologist, as many of these social scientists believe that mating rituals are rehearsed and performed. While Daisy plays her part of "parading and blushing" at the same time, the men must "act out their rivalry." The narrator explains that the other people not actively involved in the performance, know their roles as extras and jump into the play as needed. By contrast to this scene, Joe Starks and Tea Cake both court Janie in many private interactions, suggesting that real connection between people is fostered in one-on-one exchanges, not through a courtship performance.

In Chapter 1 of Their Eyes Were Watching God, how are the Eatonville residents characterized?

When the Eatonville residents are first introduced, they are observed criticizing Janie when she comes back to Eatonville after the death of Tea Cake. As the porch sitters pass judgment on Janie, the narrator passes judgment on them. The narrator characterizes them as envious, saying that seeing Janie in overalls and her hair hanging down "made them remember the envy" they had felt when she lived among them before. Similarly, the narrator asserts that the act of passing judgment makes the gossipers feel "powerful and human." They are nosy, wondering why Janie is back and without Tea Cake. They are cruel, expressing the hope that Tea Cake took her money and left her for a younger woman. These opening scenes of the book establish the Eatonville residents as small-minded, envious, and cruel—but before developing too much self-righteousness about them, the reader must also remember that they are "human."

What is the role of gossip in Their Eyes Were Watching God?

Gossip is a way that community members communicate and maintain social norms. This is first apparent when Janie returns to Eatonville after shooting Tea Cake and the porch sitters pass judgment on her through gossiping. One asks why she is in overalls. This question, made into a "burning statement," communicates the view that it isn't right for a woman to deviate from established gender norms; wearing overalls is for men, and wearing dresses is for women. The function of gossip in establishing social norms is also evident in the Everglades. After Tea Cake beats Janie to assert his voice, "everybody talked about it the next day in the fields." Gossip circulating among the folks in the fields functions as a warning and reminder to women who might think about flirting with other men or thinking themselves better than men.

In Their Eyes Were Watching God what attitudes and experiences of the African American community are represented through the conflict centering on Mrs. Turner?

Mrs. Turner's character reveals a social hierarchy among the people of the Everglades that is rooted in racism. She holds black people with white features in higher esteem than those with black features: "Anyone who looked more white folkish than herself was better than she was in her criteria, therefore it was right that they should be cruel to her at times, just as she was cruel to those more negroid than herself in direct ratio to their negroness." Mrs. Turner prefers to identify with her whiteness, though she is part black. In her refusal to see black doctors or buy from black-owned stores, Mrs. Turner, like many in American society, holds white people above African Americans. She seeks out the friendship of Janie because the latter has features resembling whites. Here, Zora Neale Hurston explores what W.E.B. DuBois termed double consciousness: that condition in which one feels he or she has more than one social identity, making it hard to identify one's self.

In Their Eyes Were Watching God, in what ways is Janie a good role model for women?

Janie can be seen as a role model for women because, despite many painful experiences and personal difficulties, she achieves several of her goals. She experiences true love and even though Tea Cake is dead, he continues to live in her heart and soul; she travels beyond the confines of her first home, though she ends up returning to another home that she had earlier abandoned; and she gains independence. Janie's marriages to Logan Killicks and Joe Starks are not loving unions, but her marriage to Tea Cake—though it certainly includes difficulties and painful episodes—is a loving one in which they share good times, hard work, and a humble home. Her travels to the Everglades and her experiences with people of other cultures enrich her and apparently provide her with enough satisfaction that she determines she no longer needs to yearn for the horizon or the road; she is content to stay at home once she is back in Eatonville. She gains her independence through the money she receives from the sale of Joe Starks's store and the self-assurance she gains from her life through her marriage with Tea Cake and through his death. That death is painful for her, of course, but she also learns over time a calm acceptance of whatever life brings that reflects maturity. Some readers may find her to be too dependent upon men, allowing herself to be defined by their vision of her. In this view, she could have left Joe Starks, just as she had left Logan Killicks, rather than waiting for him to die in order to gain independence. But Janie's ability at the novel's end to stand indifferent to other people's expectations of her marks her self-actualization or full realization of her own potential.

In Their Eyes Were Watching God what are two important ideas symbolized by the gate?

The gate in Their Eyes Were Watching God represents a means of access to people or to new experiences or a new way of life. In Chapter 1 Pheoby uses the "intimate gate" to come to Janie's porch and initiate her conversation with her. That conversation results in Pheoby's hearing Janie's life story, her truth. Similarly, in Chapter 8, when Joe Starks is ill and rejects Janie's food, the people of Eatonville come to visit him, bringing food and conversation. The narrator explains that "people who never had known what it was to enter the gate of the Mayor's yard" except to do work were suddenly welcome. The gate grants access. Most often, though, the gate signifies a new experience. Janie kisses Johnny Taylor at the gate of Nanny's home. In this event Jane gives physical expression to the budding sexuality expressed through her thoughts earlier in Chapter 2 about the pear tree. Of course Nanny sees that kiss, and the sight prompts her to arrange Janie's marriage to Logan Killicks, meaning that the gate does figure as the beginning of a new life. That life is unsatisfying to Janie, though, and by the end of the following chapter, she can be seen hanging on the gate of Killicks's home, soulfully eyeing the road outside it in hopes of seeing an opening to an escape from that life. When she does decide to leave with Joe Starks, she goes through the gate to embark on that new life.

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