Illustration of the profile of Janine Crawford and another person facing each other

Their Eyes Were Watching God

by Zora Neale Hurston

Start Free Trial

What are examples of folklore in Their Eyes Were Watching God?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Zora Neale Hurston was strongly influenced by African American oral narrative traditions and the vernacular speech of black communities in her time. She incorporates elements from both of these factors into the structure and language of the novel. Rather than insert and repeat individual folktales, Hurston weaves the concepts into the fabric of the novel.

Storytelling itself becomes part of the novel’s substance from the outset. Janie not only agrees to tell Pheoby her story, she insists on it. At various points in the novel, the reader becomes acquainted with a number of different gifted storytellers, smooth talkers such as Joe, and even outright liars like the porch sitters. After Janie suffered from being silenced by Joe, her second husband, she decided she would not permit herself to be silent again. Coming into her own voice as a storyteller is an important element that develops her as a character and merges her with the broader world she came from. By extension the novel itself is drawn more deeply into the conceptual world of folklore.

Other storytellers also emerge with distinctive voices. While the narrator uses standard American English, some individuals relate their tales in dialect. Significant among these is Janie’s grandmother, Nanny, who embodies the traditional values and resilience of African Americans as they overcame their former enslavement. In relating Janie’s family story, therefore, Nanny offers the collective story of countless other black families. Specific structural elements are incorporated into Janie’s life story, such as the tripartite division of her marriages.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team