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Folklore is descended from the oral traditions from slavery onward by way of customs, superstitions, stories, dances and songs. So, who usually tells these stories and sings these songs? Who keeps them alive in the home? Who passes them on in the patchwork quilts that become family heirlooms? It's mainly women. Their domestic roles are all version of folklore groups: quilters, choir singers, housewives, laundresses, and nannies.
The novel also uses traditional mythical and archetypal conceptions of women: mother, wise old gradmother, goddess, whore, and the supplient, who provides vision of unmitigated suffering and helplessness.
Enotes study guides say it best:
Hurston borrows literary devices from the black rural oral tradition, which she studied as an anthropologist, to further cement her privileging of that tradition over the Western literary tradition...Also, in the words of Claire Crabtree, "Janie follows a pattern familiar to folklorists of a young person's journey from home to face adventure and various dangers, followed by a triumphant homecoming." In addition, Janie returns "richer and wiser" than she left, and she is ready to share her story with Pheoby, intending that the story be repeated, as a kind of folktale to be passed on.
In the Enotes critical essay "The Confluence of Folklore, Feminism, and Black Self-Determination in Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God," Claire Crabtree says:
Within the storytelling frame, Janie's life is depicted as a spiritual journey and, in Janie's words, a journey to the horizon and back as "'a delegate to de big 'ssociation of life ... De Grand Lodge, de big convention of livin.'" Janie follows a pattern familiar to folklorists of a young person's journey from home to face adventure and various dangers, followed by a triumphant homecoming. Like the hero of a folktale, Janie Crawford leaves home behind her, meets strangers who become either allies or enemies, expresses the transformations she undergoes through costumes and disguises which are invested with special significance, experiences reversals in her perceptions of individual people and events, and returns cleansed, enlightened and alone. The folktale's repetition of events in a series of three is duplicated in Janie's three marriages, as well as by her movement out of the rural community of Nanny, her grandmother, and her first husband, to the town where she keeps a store with Joe Starks, and finally to the "muck" of the Everglades where she experiences joy and bereavement through Tea Cake, her third husband.
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