How does the author use descriptive language and other literary devices to create the setting in Their Eyes Were Watching God?

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MaudlinStreet | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

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The language of this novel is richly poetic, employing many different literary devices. Hurston uses a third-person narrator, privy to the characters' thoughts. The novel opens as the narrator explains the difference between men and women, using a metaphor to illustrate the contrast. “Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board”; Some ships come to shore, and the man’s wishes are fulfilled, while other ships stay away. Whether a man’s wishes come true or not is a matter of luck, and the narrator says “that is the life of men.” Women, on the other hand, “forget all of those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget.” In other words, women control their lives, because living in itself is the goal, and they don’t waste time trying to chase down a dream that cannot be fulfilled. The narrator says that “the dream is the truth,” and women “act and do things accordingly.” This metaphor establishes the personality of Janie, highlighting her independence and sense of identity.

Dialect is another literary device Hurston uses. This lends a sense of realism and authenticity to her characters and their relationships. It also generates sympathy for Janie, drawing the reader into the story. Furthermore, Hurston utilizes metaphors in order to emphasize the cruelty of the townspeople, such as "they made burning statements with questions, and killing tools out of laughs.” This brings the pain that language can cause to life. The fact that she is able to ignore this talk and greet them politely is courageous, further building her character. The townspeople, on the other hand, only become more upset, and “hope that she might fall to her level some day.” This statement is very ironic, because Janie’s refusal to entertain the townspeople’s nosy questions proves that she is, in fact, above them.

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