Their Eyes Were Watching God

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Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston can be characterized as an African-American novel; at least, according to Toni Morrison’s criteria for this genre of novel, it can be. Morrison claims that for a novel to be categorized as African-American, it must contain three things: a “community commenting on or responding to the action,” “the presence of an ancestor” who provides insight and wisdom to the main character, and “an oral quality.” This novel contains all three of these criteria in the forms of characters like Nanny Crawford and the porch-sitters, and in Janie’s oral telling of her story to her friend Pheoby Watson. Through these characteristics, Their Eyes Were Watching God makes a connection to traditional African storytelling…show more content…
These women are labeled as such because they sit on the porch and “[pass] nations through their mouths” (2). While the rest of the characters disregard them as gossipers, the porch-sitters still act as a community voice, commenting on the lives of the people of Eatonville. They are the first to comment on the appearance of Janie at the beginning of the novel, her short mourning period for her husband Jody Starks, and her running off with the younger Tea Cake Woods. The narrator remarks that they “sat in judgement” (2) when Janie comes walking up the road of Eatonville and that they only begin talking about her once she is inside her gate. Although they are the voice of the community, it is a hushed voice that only comes out when safe. Another example of the voice of the community can be found at the end of the novel in the courtroom. All the black residents of Eatonville are against Janie in her trial and “talked all of a sudden and all together like a choir” (258), a passage which returns to Morrison’s idea of the “presence and participation of a chorus” (Morrison 339). The voice of the community is present in this novel through the porch-sitters in Eatonville and the collective of black folks in the courtroom…show more content…
The modern setting and language may set it apart from the traditional oral storytelling in Africa, but the facets of the story itself offer a deeper connection to the African-American experience through the criteria described by Toni
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