Study Guide

Their Eyes Were Watching God Mortality

By Zora Neale Hurston

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In Their Eyes Were Watching God, death is presented as both the traditional ending of a life and a cause for grief. However, it also has a positive connotation; death isn't merely an end but also the start of a new beginning. Death is often paired with an experience of rebirth.

The novel also views death in 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

  1. Why is it appropriate that the novel begins with Janie returning from the dead? Think of this in terms of the book’s ending and the death of Tea Cake.
  2. How is death depicted as a natural process? What specific instances of death in nature recur again and again in the novel?
  3. How is death related to transformation and transitions between one phase of life to another?
  4. 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?
  5. 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.

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