Critical Context (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series)
When Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God was first published, some critics praised the work’s affirmation of women and black culture, while others criticized it as expressing a view of African Americans as happy and carefree, the stereotype generated by the black minstrels. For thirty years, the novel was out of print. It was the influence of novelist Alice Walker that propelled the work into prominence in the civil rights era. Walker particularly praised the use of black dialect and the emphasis on one woman’s narrative influencing her listener. Other twentieth century works that emphasize acceptance of racial identity, a woman narrating stories, and a listener reacting to a narrative include The Kitchen God’s Wife (1991), by Amy Tan; The Woman Warrior (1976), by Maxine Hong Kingston; Beloved (1987), by Toni Morrison; and Walker’s own The Color Purple (1982).
Some of Hurston’s other novels, such as Jonah’s Gourd Vine (1934) and Seraph on the Suwanee (1948), are written in dialect and contain strong female protagonists. Like the blossoming of the pear tree in Their Eyes Were Watching God, the mountain in Hurston’s Moses, Man of the Mountain (1939) is a natural symbol expressing something greater than the pyramids of Egypt. Hurston, an anthropologist, laced her fiction with elements of the folklore and sermons of the black South, capturing for the reader the essence of this culture.