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The novel makes references to important historical institutions and events. In Chapter 2, for example, it makes reference to slavery as Nanny tells Janie that as she was born into slavery she had no dreams to fulfil and neither did she have to figure out for herself what a black woman should be and do. "Dat's one of de hold-backs of slavery. But nothing can't stop you from wishin'". Yet, this unexpected freedom is a source of disorientation as Nanny herself says a few lines before:
You know, honey, us colored folks is branches without roots and that makes things come round in queer ways. You in particular.
In the same speech, Nanny also refers to the Civil War and the taking of Atlanta by General Sherman. In chapter 6, the novel refers to Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Declaration, while in chapter 12 there is a reference to Booker T. Washington whom one of the characters describes as an enemy of black people, contrary to Janie's conviction "dat he wuz uh great big man".
An important part of the novel takes place in Eatonville, which in chapter 5 is referred to as "the colored town", as it was the first all-black town in the U.S.
Although Hurston is sometimes criticized for her lack of radicalism and preoccupation with the contemporary politics of the Great Depression, Their Eyes Were Watching God also describes the life of migrant workers of the 1930s in the chapters set on the muck.
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