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Their Eyes Were Watching

God Background
Zora Neale Hurston and her style

Early Life
Born January 7, 1891
Moved to Eatonville, Florida
the first all-black incorporated
town in the US
her father, John Hurston,
served several terms as mayor
of Eatonville
She also sets part of Their Eyes
Were Watching God in a town
like Eatonville

Her mothers death

and fathers
remarriage caused
her to leave her
hometown at 14

She completed her education at
Morgan Academy in Baltimore
and Howard University in
Washington, DC.
Her mother told her to jump at
de sun so she arrived in New
York in January 1925
Just in time for the Harlem Renaissance

Hurston was also the only black scholar at Barnard College and
studied with Dr. Franz Boas, often called the father of American
Hurston recorded folktales, verbal contest, everyday idiomatic
communication and hoodoo practices of blacks in the American
Today her collections at the Library of Congress are considered
unique documents of traditions that have vanished or been altered

Romantic Life
Married and divorced three husbands
At 44, fell in love with 23 year old Percy Punter
When he asked her to give up her career to marry him
she refused saying:
[She] had things clawing inside [her] that must be
She wrote Their Eyes, trying in its pages to embalm all
the tenderness of [her] passion for him.

Hurstons style and the

Harlem Renaissance

Maintained fidelity to the black culture that existed to a great

extent outside of white cultural influence.
She focused mainly on the experience of poor and working class
people as expressed through dialect and rituals of speech and
Many African American leaders found her depiction retrograde.
Her contemporaries accused Hurston of portraying a
backward Negro people.
Richard Wright accused her of perpetuating the use of
minstrel technique that makes white folks laugh.

In response to her critics...

I tried...not to pander to the4 folks who expect a clown
and a villain in every Negro. Neither did I want to
pander to those race people among us who see nothing
but perfection in all of us.
I do not attempt to solve any problems [in my novels]. I
know I cannot straighten out with a few pen-strokes
what God and men took centuries to mess up. So I tried
to deal with life as we actually live it-not as the
sociologists imagine it.

Publishing Struggles
Their Eyes was published in 1937, however finances
continued to be a struggle especially because of the
Great Depression
In the 1950s white publishers rejected her books
partly because the New Negro had fallen out of
Hurstons beliefs also alienated her with her
anticommunist essays and denunciation of school

After a debilitating stroke in 1959, she
entered a welfare home where she died
penniless on January 28, 1960.
The town tried to collect donations for her
grave but it only collected enough to bury
her, not for a tombstone.

Hurstons work fell out of print and it was not
until the 1970s that Alice Walker (a famous
African American writer in her own right)
rediscovered Hurston.
Walker also paid for a gravestone to be put on
Hurstons grave.
Her literary revival had much to do with
revisions to the literary canon
emergence of feminism and multiculturalism

Coming of age
narratives of learning and growth
Includes elements of:
a single individuals growth and development within the context of a
defined social order
to spur the hero on requires some form of loss or discontent to jar
them at an early stage away from home
process of maturity is long, difficult and gradual consisting of
repeated clashes between the hero's needs and desires and the views
and judgments enforced by social order
novel ends with an assessment by the hero of him/her self and
his/her new place in that society

...nothing is destructible; things merely change forms.

When the consciousness we know as life ceases, I know
that I shall still be part and parcel of the world. - Zora
Neale Hurston