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Their Eyes Were Watching God

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Forget the stuffy, straight-laced novels that often take center stage in the literary world. Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God is straight-up hilarious, with characters so real that they jump off the page and experiences so true that you feel like you're living them. Janie, the novel's heroine, is on a quest for true love. But trust us: this book is anything but mushy. Janie's journey takes her through some dark and lonely places and, although she eventually finds what she's looking for, it comes at a steep price. Was it worth it? We'll let you find out.

Get ready for boatloads of activities and creative projects that will

  • help you recognize and articulate ways in which history, social issues, and politics influence art and literature.
  • examine how Hurston's manipulation of language and imagery captures the folk tales and oral culture that form the center of the novel.
  • give you the 4-1-1 on the basic structure of a quest—woman style.
  • provide the low down on the Harlem Renaissance and the ability to recognize some of its most important contributors.

Course Breakdown

Unit 1. Their Eyes Were Watching God

This 15-lesson course will give you the ins, outs, and sidewayses of Zora Neale Hurston, the Harlem Renaissance, and this here masterpiece, Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Sample Lesson - Introduction

Lesson 2: The Skinny on the Harlem Renaissance

Their Eyes Were Watching God isn't about the Harlem Renaissance.

Nor is it set in Harlem.

ALT_TEXT
Trying on all walks of life.
(Source)

Nor was it particularly well liked by some of the key figures of the Harlem Renaissance.

In fact, Richard Wright slammed Hurston's writing in Their Eyes Were Watching God, saying—among some other not-so-nice things—that "[t]he sensory sweep of her novel carries no theme, no message, no thought. In the main, her novel is not addressed to the Negro, but to a white audience whose chauvinistic tastes she knows how to satisfy" (source).

Yikes.

Basically, Hurston's political views and her refusal to write about blacks and their experiences in the "approved" way set her at odds with some of the leading voices of the Harlem Renaissance. The result? A falling out of favor followed by obscurity.

But back to Their Eyes Were Watching God and the Harlem Renaissance. Despite the fact that Hurston's novel doesn't cater to the voice and views of other important people associated with the Harlem Renaissance, that doesn't mean that the novel doesn't participate in the cultural, philosophical, and political explosion of the time.

Zora was, well, Zora. Known for her outspokenness, her eccentricity, and her individuality, it's no wonder that she created a literary voice that echoed what she saw and experienced as a black American woman. If she decided to make her "life's goal to convince the world of African American folk culture's legitimacy as an art form" (source), then she would do it, regardless of whether or not other black writers, artists, and thinkers were behind her. And, at the end of the day, isn't that independence of spirit and celebration of the black experience—in whatever shape they come—the lifeblood of the Harlem Renaissance?

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  • Course Length: 3 weeks
  • Grade Levels: 9, 10, 11, 12
  • Course Type: Short Course
  • Category:
    • English
    • Literature
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Common Core Standards  

The following standards are covered in this course:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.10