Teaching Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God

Thursday, February 20, 2014
7:00 pm - 8:30 pm (EST) Enter Classroom Enter Forum


Heather Russell
Associate Professor of Literature
Florida International University

About the Seminar

Since its paperback re-issue in 1978, Their Eyes Were Watching God(1937), written in seven weeks, while Hurston was in Haiti doing research on African religious retentions, has continued to capture the imaginations of its readers, drawing them deeply into the erotic-spiritual “great journey to the horizon,” of the novel’s heroine, Janie Crawford, as she marries three husbands, becomes the mayor’s wife of historic Eatonville, the first black town incorporated in the US, traverses the Everglades, survives a hurricane, shoots the love of her life, is arrested and acquitted, and returns to Eatonville to tell the story.

But what is the novel really about? Is it simply about a woman’s search for romantic love? What did it mean for a black woman character in the 1930’s to be a sexual being? In what ways is the Eatonville setting important? In other words, how is Eatonville also a central character in the novel, and how might an understanding of Hurston’s anthropological training help us to re-see the townspeople of Eatonville? Often accused of being a social conservative on race, how does the novel’s treatment of race, color and class challenge such allegations? Why does Hurston choose to immortalize the Hurricane of 1928 for the dramatic action of the novel? Finally, where is Haiti in this novel? We will not only “discover Haiti” in the novel, but discuss how such unveilings reveal new possibilities for re-seeing Their Eyes Were Watching God.

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Assigned Readings

    Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston.
    (any edition is fine)

Suggested Additional Resources

    Ruby Dee reading from Their Eyes Were Watching God.

    Freedom's Story: Teaching African American Literature and
    History. TeacherServe©. National Humanities Center.

    Pigmentocracy, an essay by Trudier Harris.

Presentation PDF

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Seminar Recording