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Their Eyes Were Watching God

by Zora Neale Hurston

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What is the relevance of the title (Their Eyes Were Watching God) to the hurricanes or to the man made conflicts mentioned in Chapters 18 & 19 Any examples from the text would be helpful.

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The title of the novel becomes important in Chapters 18 and 19 just before the full fury of the hurricane and again after it is over.

However, the set-up for these passages occurs in Chapter 16:

It was inevitable that she should accept any inconsistency and cruelty from her deity as all good worshippers do from theirs. All gods who receive homage are cruel. All gods dispense suffering without reason. Otherwise they would not be worshipped. Through indiscriminate suffering men know fear and fear is the most divine emotion. It is the stones for altars and the beginning of wisdom. Half gods are worshipped in wine and flowers. Real gods require blood.

The fear mention in this passage comes to life in the throws of the hurricane. Just before abandoning their shack, Janie, Tea Cake and Motor Boat cower in the corner:

They huddles closer and stared at the door. They just didn't use another part of their bodies, and they didn't look at anything but the door. The time was past for asking the white folks what to look for through that door. Six eyes were questioning God.

Then, a page later:

They sat in company with the others in other shanties, their eyes straining against crude walls and their should asking if He meant to measure their puny might against His. They seemed to be staring at the dark, bit their eyes were watching God.

By Chapter 19, after the hurricane has passed, we get the following description of those that did not survive:

Some bodied fully dressed, some naked and some in all degrees of dishevelment. Some bodies with calm faces, and satisfied hands. Some dead with fighting faces and eyes flung wide open in wonder. Death had found them watching, trying to see beyond seeing.

In other words, God will find ways to test our faith and sometimes those tests will take our lives. If He did not, we would not fear Him; and if we did not fear Him, we could never become wise.

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