Their Eyes Were Watching God
Your eyes are watching Shmoop.
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.
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.
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).
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?
Sample Lesson - Reading
Reading 1.2: The Harlem Renaissance
Get ready to do a little time-traveling because today's reading fare has you going back to the Harlem Renaissance. As you read, think globally: get the big picture of what the Harlem Renaissance was all about; but don't forget to give some serious thought to what interests you most about the time period.
Go ahead and poke around Shmoop's guide to the Harlem Renaissance. Spend at least 20-30 minutes with it, but after that, stick around as long as you'd like.
Sample Lesson - Activity
Activity 1.2a: Show What You Know
Appreciating Their Eyes Were Watching God and Hurston's place in the Harlem Renaissance means knowing about the Harlem Renaissance in the first place.
For this activity, you're going to spend a little quality time doing research, exploring background info, and—you know—basically becoming an expert in a hurry. Once you've done the whole point-and-click-your-way to some illuminating information, you'll turn that info into a little something we like to call a presentation. You may have heard of it.
Step 1: We'll start by narrowing the field a bit. Given the historical, political, and cultural importance of the Harlem Renaissance as well as the many important figures associated with the time period, there are many, many, many directions you could take your research. This could become your life for the next year or so—but let's not do that.
Before going any further, give some serious thought to which aspect of the Harlem Renaissance piques your interest. What follows is by no means an exhaustive list, but it may help get those brain synapses firing:
- Are you smitten by the jazz of the era?
- Do you have a strong interest in any of the jazz musicians?
- Does the poetry of the Harlem Renaissance move you?
- Is there a particular poet you'd like to explore?
- Are you intrigued by Harlem Renaissance art?
- Do you want to find out more about any of the artists associated with the Harlem Renaissance?
- Do the politics of the time period fascinate you?
- Do any of the activists associated with the Harlem Renaissance interest you?
- Are you interested in the culture of Harlem at that time?
- Do you need to know just what occurred to make the Harlem Renaissance possible?
Step 2: Now that you've figured out your angle, you're going to need to do a bit more digging around to make sure that you really have a good grasp of your topic. To help make this step a bit easier, we here at Shmoop have done some of the legwork for you by compiling a list of noteworthy sites. But before we send you off to explore, keep this one basic point in mind:
- Regardless of which topic you've chosen, always, always, always come back to the Harlem Renaissance. What role did jazz, or your particular poet, or a specific activist play in the Harlem Renaissance? What contributions did ____________ make to the Harlem Renaissance? How did the music, politics, poetry, or whatever you're researching reflect the ideas or culture of the Harlem Renaissance?
See how easy that is?
So, as you read through articles, catch a few YouTube videos, and/or browse through the art or poetry of the Harlem Renaissance, remember to take notes on how exactly your topic connects or contributes to, reflects, promotes, or otherwise engages in the Harlem Renaissance. (Jot down your source info, too—you'll need it later for citations.)
Oh, and before you panic at the number of resources we've assembled below, remember that—most likely—you will be focusing on one category. Keep in mind, too, that these are just starters. So if you don't find enough info here, go off, explore, see what else the good ol' WWW has to offer. Just don't get too lost. (And be selective—you wouldn't want to base your research off of what a third-grader wrote, for instance.)
- Shmoop, Jazz, Dance, and the Harlem Renaissance video.
- Biography.com on "Famous Harlem Renaissance People—A to Z." This site covers musicians and other notable people, so check out their credentials before diving in too deep.
- Encyclopedia Britannica, "Harlem Renaissance—Black Heritage and American Culture."
- The Harlem Renaissance c/o U.S. History dot org. A good, general overview that covers politics and the arts.
- Biography.com on the Harlem Renaissance—a solid but brief look at some of the key facets of the time period.
- PBS on the American Novel, "Harlem Renaissance."
- African American History Place, "Harlem Renaissance."
- Poets.org, Writers of the Harlem Renaissance.
- Encyclopedia Britannica, "Harlem Renaissance."
- Shmoop, Langston Hughes.
- Shmoop, Harlem Renaissance Literature (you already scoped this out, but you can dig a little deeper here).
- PBS, "Arts and Culture."
- Smithsonian American Art Museum, "African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era, and Beyond."
- Artcyclopedia, "The Harlem Renaissance."
- "The Harlem Renaissance: A Social Documentary through Art."
- Pratt Library, "African American Department: Harlem Renaissance Concept Guide."
For additional information regarding the Harlem Renaissance—some general, some topic-specific—explore these links:
- PBS NewsHour, "Harlem Renaissance."
- Issues and Controversies in American History, "Harlem Renaissance."
Step 3: Okay, that was the hard part. Now it's time to put together all of the good stuff you discovered during your research—presentation-style. Before you open PowerPoint or log in to Prezi, you should do some planning: organize your information and figure out which fascinating facts should go where. Your target length: about 5 minutes. Here are a few tips:
- Think thesis. Yep, even presentations need a thesis. Once you've figured out what your central argument will be, then you can organize all of your material around that point. (Kind of like an essay. Fancy that!)
- Think brief. No one—and we really do mean no one—wants to read long, cumbersome sentences in a presentation. So keep your points short. Use bullets.
- Think talking points. You should be able to elaborate (verbally—as in, while you're presenting) on the info that you choose to put into your presentation.
- Think intro and conclusion. Provide a bit of context and closure.
Got all that? Good. Once you've finished the outline for your presentation, feel free to go on to Step 4.
Step 4: Making it look good. You've done the research; you've got an outline; now it's time to assemble the actual visual presentation. We recommend PowerPoint or Prezi.
Keep these pointers in mind as you work:
- Stick to the plan. You prepared an outline for a reason. Make sure your info flows logically and that it is organized around a clear central thesis.
- Remember that all the graphics and fonts and colors and transitions and whatever else you plan to throw in for added dramatic effect should be viewer-friendly.
- Avoid clutter.
- Strive for brief statements and bulleted points. Short. Sweet. To the point.
- Add a few well-chosen visuals to support or complement your text. Gaudy distractions need not apply.
- Provide citations as necessary.
- Fun extras: sound bytes? Embedded video? Gifs? Hey, if they help you make your case, then go for it.
Step 5: Double-back to make sure that you met all of the requirements. Then spend some quality time with your presentation editing and proofreading to make sure that the final outcome looks professional and polished. (Glaring typos can be oh-so-embarrassing.)
Step 6: Upload your presentation below, and be prepared because your teacher might make you actually present it. (Yeah, you saw that coming.)
Sample Lesson - Activity
Quiz 1.2b: Harlem Renaissance in Review
- Course Length: 3 weeks
- Grade Levels: 9, 10, 11, 12
- Course Type: Short Course
Just what the heck is a Shmoop Online Course?
Common Core Standards
The following standards are covered in this course:CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.1