What is the role of Eatonville in Their Eyes Were Watching God? In what light does Hurston show this town?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Eatonville, modeled after the real township of this name, is a successful community run solely by African Americans. As the real-life home of Zora Neale Hurston, this setting adds authenticity and cultural heritage to the narrative.

There is no question that the all-black community generates a certain pride in their township that has a mayor and other city officials who provide organization and a strong sense of community for the members who gather at the store of Joe Sparks, talking, teasing one another, singing, and playing games. Indeed, Eatonville is a model for other African-American communities, displaying both positive qualities to be emulated and negative qualities to be avoided, such as Joe's subjugation and objectifying of Janie as his possession (which hints at sexual slavery):

Janie loved the conversation and sometimes she thought up good stories on the mule, but Joe had forbidden her to indulge.... "You'se Mrs. Mayor Starks, Janie. I god, Ah can't see what uh woman uh yo'stability would want tuh be treasurin' all dat sum-grease from folks dat don't even own de house dey sleep in...."

 Also, as an anthropologist herself, Hurston was interested in the development of culture, and she advocated for a spirit of independence in African-Americans. In fact, she was concerned about New Deal policies of economic support for African Americans, arguing that such aid would generate a harmful dependency in African Americans on the government, a dependency that would weaken them and give too much power to politicians over them.

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Their Eyes Were Watching God

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