Their Eyes Were Watching God
by Zora Neale Hurston
Their Eyes Were Watching God Theme of Mortality
In this novel, death is presented as both the traditional ending of a life and cause for grief. However, it also has a positive connotation; death is not merely an end, but the start of a new beginning. Death is often paired with an experience of rebirth. The novel also views death as a spiritual context, presenting the dying moment as a time of divine judgment. Dying is not so frightening for those who feel that they have lived a good and full life. On the contrary, characters with unrepented sins tend to fear death and attempt to fight it.
Questions About Mortality
- Why is it appropriate that the novel begins with Janie returning from the dead – the corpses of the hurricane? Think of this in terms of the book’s ending – the death of Tea Cake.
- How is death depicted as a natural process? What specific instances of death in nature recur again and again in the novel?
- How is death related to transformation and transitions between one phase of life to another?
- Consider Janie’s personification of Death as "square-toed," wielding a "soulless sword" and living in a house with no walls. What do these traits signify about Death?
- How is death not really an ending, but a chance for rebirth? Apply this to both the literal and metaphoric deaths in Janie’s story. How does Janie come to accept Tea Cake’s death?
Chew on This
Death is a positive force in Janie’s life because it always results in a positive new beginning.