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 black community torn by sharp jealousy, racism based on skin color, and a desire to tear down their more successful peers.
The most important aspect of race in Their Eyes Were Watching God, however, is that it attempts to take a holistic look at black Southern culture. The novel highlights positive aspects of the culture...but it doesn't hold back from examining the trauma of the history of black persecution and the effect that has on black communities at the turn of the 20th century.
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’ perceptions 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 is based more strongly on shared culture than shared genetics. Janie connects most strongly with black culture and therefore never doubts that she is black despite her heritage.