Their Eyes Were Watching God Duality

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In 1920s Harlem, swing music reigned, great works of art and literature were being created every day, African American creative expression was at its height - The Harlem Renaissance was alive. Zora Neale Hurston, author of Their Eyes Were Watching God, was one such black expressionist at this time. Several characters in her celebrated novel demonstrate the ideas of the Harlem renaissance, but most notable of these characters is Janie, the strong, Black woman that the novel is based around. The novel tells the story of Janie’s journey for love, and the heartbreak and misfortune that she encounters along the way to the “horizon”. Zora Neale Hurston’s writing is both a reflection and a departure from the ideas of the Harlem Renaissance The Harlem …show more content…

The idea of duality, or “twoness” of the consciousness, was a concept coined by W.E.B. DuBois in the Harlem Renaissance. According to the DuBois, the term is used to describe an individual whose identity is divided into several facets, but can also be used to describe the psycho-social divisions in America at this time. “All these things set her aside from Negroes.. Janie’s coffee-and-cream complexion and her luxurious hair made Mrs. Turner forgive her for wearing overalls like the other women who worked in the fields” (page 140). Janie is multi racial, half Black and half White. This gives her distinctive Black and White physical features, and many see her as either one or the other. This shows a certain duality in her, having dark skin, but the long, straight hair typical of white people. Another example of this “twoness” in Zora Neale Hurston’s writing is the she writes the dialogue in the novel, and how that contrasts with the narration. The dialogue is in an intense Southern dialect, whereas the narration presents itself as very educated, and collegiate. The difference shows a distinct dichotomy between the two, and reflects the Harlem Renaissance in two ways: It acknowledges African American roots, a key part of the Harlem Renaissance, and it also shows the educated, upper class, elite dictation and vernacular of the writers in the Harlem …show more content…

One example of this deviation is the harsh depiction of African American men in the novel. The men that Janie encounters in the novel all have quite apparent flaws. Joe Starks, Janie’s second husband, is controlling and jealous. Her third husband, Tea Cake, has gambling issues, and begins to beat her. Hurston also offers commentary on Black men through the character Mrs. Turner. Mrs. Turner’s negative view of African American men is quite clearly articulated in chapter 16, “ ‘Ah can’t stand ‘em mahself…’Tain’t de poorness, it’s de color and de features… and whoopin’ and hollerin’ and laughin’ over nothin’?’ ” (page 141) Zora Neale Hurston’s ideas about Black men, which are not positive in the book, are betrayals of the goal of an enhanced self image, a popular aim of the Harlem Renaissance. Dr. Mary Dowd explores the idea of the self image in the Harlem Renaissance in her article, "What Were the Goals of the Harlem Renaissance?”. She writes that many writers and artists in this era aimed to empower African Americans, and aimed to create positive images of Blacks in writing and art, who show admirable traits. However, Hurston’s portrayal of these men is less than admirable, and defeats the purpose of this

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