Their Eyes Were Watching God
by Zora Neale Hurston
Their Eyes Were Watching God Theme of Race
In addition to the basic premise that racism holds white men as inherently superior to blacks, the narrator presents the oppressed minority as a community whose constituents internalize and often propagate traditional racist notions. The novel shows a darker side of the black community, revealing sharp jealousy, racism based on skin color, mob mentality, and a desire to tear down their more successful peers. The most important aspect of race in this book, however, is that it attempts a holistic look at black southern culture. The novel highlights positive aspect of the culture, such as colorful storytelling, playful humor, and a love of fun. In contrast to the black characters, white characters tend to be cold, un-dynamic, and uninteresting.
Questions About Race
- Is Their Eyes Were Watching God primarily an anti-racism novel? Is racism a central issue?
- How does Janie’s identity vacillate between white and black factions? Consider her appearance, her bloodline, and her behavior (or others’ perception of her behavior).
- Is Janie ever a victim of racism? Who feels racist sentiments against her (if anyone)?
- Mrs. Turner takes white worship to a new religious and aesthetic level. How does she justify her worship of the white race?
- Do white and black people speak the same way? If so, why doesn’t Hurston distinguish one race from another? If not, what do the differences say about the two races?
- In this novel, is race more about skin color (let’s say, heritage and genetics) or culture? Does Hurston argue either way?
- What does it mean that the protagonist, Janie is genetically mostly white (her grandfather and father were Caucasian)? Does it mean anything?
Chew on This
In this novel, race based more strongly on shared culture than shared genetics. Janie resonates most strongly with black culture and therefore never doubts that she is black despite her heritage.