In Zora Neale Hurston's novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, what do the first two paragraphs suggest about differences between men and women and the language they use?

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vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The opening two paragraphs of Zora Neale Hurston’s novel Their Eyes Were Watching Godimply significant differences between men and women:

Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For somethey come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.

Now, women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.

These paragraphs suggest that men, ironically, are less in control of their lives than women are. Men, the paragraphs, suggest are driven and controlled by desires. Sometimes those desires are fulfilled. Often they are not.  In both cases, however, men have little control over the fulfillment of their desires. They find themselves in dependent, passive positions because they define their lives and the value of their lives by looking outside themselves. They are therefore more likely to be disappointed than women are.

Women, the second paragraph suggests, shape their own worlds. They impose their own values on their worlds, even if doing so means neglecting or forgetting unpleasant facts. (Often these unpleasant facts are created by men, as the novel will later show.) By shaping their worlds and lives in their own images, women gain more control over their lives than men typically enjoy.

Ironically, then, in the opening of the novel, the narrator reverses some standard cultural assumptions, especially the assumption that men have greater power than women.  In a sense they do (obviously), and the novel never tries to deny this fact. But the chief male figures in the book are all dead and, in some ways, defeated by the end of the novel, whereas Janie is the one survivor. Her triumph exemplifies the claims made about women in the novel's second paragraph.

The language of the male and female characters does not lend itself to easy generalizations, especially because the three main male characters differ in significant ways. One might generalize by saying that the men often speak with an authority that they don’t always possess, and that the women possess more authority than their speech would sometimes indicate.


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Their Eyes Were Watching God

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