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Their Eyes Were Watching God

by Zora Neale Hurston

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How does race, the Harlem Renaissance, and the American Dream all meet up with Hurston’s novel of Their Eyes Were Watching God?

Race, the Harlem Renaissance, and the American dream are all relevant to the novel Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. Hurston was writing during the Harlem Renaissance, a time when African Americans were increasingly producing content in the arts. During this time, African Americans were still not considered equal, and they had many roadblocks in achieving their dreams. Dreams are a recurring theme in literature from the time period.

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Though Hurston has said that her novel was not meant to focus on race relations, race is still a theme present in the text. The main character, Janie, lives with her grandmother. Her grandmother works for a white family. Janie does not even realize she is black until she sees a picture of herself with the white children that were her playmates. This brings up questions about how race and differences are perceived as we grow from children to adults.

Janie's grandmother had an illicit relationship when she was a slave; therefore, Janie's mother is of mixed race, as is Janie herself.

Later in the novel, another African American woman, Mrs. Turner, tries to set Janie up with her brother because she believes that Janie's husband, Tea Cake, is not good enough for her, since his skin is too dark. Mrs. Turner believes that she can treat African American's who are darker skinned than her poorly and that Janie has a right to treat her poorly because her skin is lighter. This brings up questions about how African Americans perceive each other and how race relations have caused deprivation within the culture.

The American dream is present in this novel as well. Janie wants more than to work on a farm, married to an old man. She escapes with her second husband, an ambitious man, who becomes the mayor of Eatonville. Janie is not allowed to associate with the townspeople because her husband deems her above them, but Janie longs to make friends and be social. In the context of the novel, African Americans are only able to be successful within their own culture, as Eatonville is the first African American-incorporated town in the United Statesboth in the novel and historically.

Lastly, Zora Neale Hurston was writing during the Harlem Renaissance, so her book and other works were influenced by what was going on during that time period, which is seen through the question posed about race and Janie's longing for a better life.

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