Their Eyes Were Watching God
by Zora Neale Hurston
Their Eyes Were Watching God Questions
Bring on the tough stuff - there’s not just one right answer.
- How does the title "Their Eyes Were Watching God" capture some of the main themes of the book? How do the concepts of God, faith, destiny, or sight tie into the plot?
- In what ways could Janie be read as feminist? Conversely, what weaknesses or flaws might a feminist see in her?
- Consider the important scene of young Janie underneath the pear tree. Why do you think Janie is so fascinated by the action between the bee and the blossom? What components of this scene (plants, animals, sexual union, love) recur in the novel and where do they repeat? What do you think these things come to symbolize?
- Consider the motif of seeing/sight. How does ‘seeing clearly’ or ‘seeing the truth’ help certain characters advance? How does metaphorical blindness cause problems for certain characters (particularly the men)? How is self-perception instrumental?
- How does Janie define love? Does her conception of love develop from her sixteen-year-old obsession with the bee and the pear blossom? What specific things does Janie learn do NOT comprise love? All of the men Janie marry exhibit jealousy in one form or another. Yet why does Janie tolerate it in Tea Cake and not the others?
- Hurston alternates between Standard English and the phonetically transcribed vernacular of Southern black culture. Why does she use both instead of sticking to one or the other? How does the switching between the two styles of language affect the narration and tone of the story?
- How do the motifs of speech and silence interact? To what extent are the problems in Janie’s marriages caused by a stifling of her voice (especially in her marriage with Joe)?
- Is Hurston’s message on racial inequality (if any) compromised by the fact that her protagonist is only one-quarter black? Much of Janie’s good luck comes specifically because of her white features so does this invalidate her identity as an African-American? (Remember that Janie thought she was white until she saw herself in a photograph.) In a similar vein, how are Mrs. and Mr. Turner products of racism?
- The most fateful moment of Janie’s life involves a dog with "pure hate" in his eyes. In light of Janie’s character, how does this dog represent everything she has come to fear? Read from another angle, how could this battle between the dog, Tea Cake, and Janie, be interpreted as an allegory of racism?
- Does Pheoby play any other role than that of a listener? In what ways is she similar to us as readers and, conversely, in what ways is she a character in her own right?
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