What are some examples of humor in Their Eyes Were Watching God?These can include satire, parody, burlesque and hyperbole.

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munarriz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God depicts the journey towards maturity and independence of a young black woman in the South in the early twentieth century. Hurston does more, however, than tell the story of Janie’s development; she tells the story of the black community and its rituals and customs. Humor plays a large role in the novel, as Hurston seems to express that this somewhat comic disposition was innate to the black community as a means of deflecting the pain associated with racism and its effects in a post-Civil War America.

The porch-sitters in Eatonville spend a great deal of time gossiping and sparring verbally with each other. After a long day of hard work, they sit on the porch and engage in discussions that tear each other down as a means of letting off steam and also feeling better about themselves and their circumstances. Hurston writes, “They made burning statements with questions, and killing tools out of laughs. It was mass cruelty. A mood come alive. Words walking without masters; walking altogether like a harmony in a song.”

Joe Starks, Janie’s second husband, did not let her participate in the porch talk because he felt it was beneath her as the mayor’s wife. Despite his exertion of power over her, Janie loved the conversation that “was a contest in hyperbole and carried on for no other reason.” In one scene the men are teasing Matt about his mule. Matt asks if an alligator caught his mule, and the men respond it is worse than that, “de womenfols go yo’ mule.” They go on to say that the “women is usin’ his rib bones fuh rub-board, and hangin’ things out on his hock-bones tuh dry.” The men are laughing hysterically at the expense of the women. This playing of the dozens makes men feel powerful.

Another example of humor can be found in the mock funeral for Sam’s mule. It mimics in many ways a traditional funeral in the African American community of the time. In one of the eulogies, Sam “spoke of the joys of mule-heaven to which the dear brother had departed this valley of sorrow; the mule-angels flying around; the miles of green corn and cool water, a pasture of pure bran with a river of molasses running through it, and most glorious of all, No Matt Bonner with plow lines and halters to come in and corrupt.” In this statement we see the absurdity of treating the mule like a person and imagining its mule-heaven populated by mule-angels. We also see the added insult to Matt, the mule’s owner.

The humor of the novel, then, includes satire and parody. Mostly, it is a way to capture the heart and soul of the African American community and the verbal games associated with their culture and their survival.

Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God is not a particularly humorous novel, though there are some delightfully humorous moments in the story.  Labeling them rather depends upon your precise definitions of the terms you mention, however, as they share some common elements.

In Eatonville, there are several men who are not particularly appealing, yet they attempt to "make moves" on Janie in a suave and smooth manner. They fail miserably, but they are humorous and even burlesque in both word and deed.

Also in Eatonville, the boasting of the town's self-appointed leader is so outrageous that it becomes humorous. This is ironic, for Joe Starks is clearly not the best man in the town and this depiction of him might be considered satire.

Down in the bayou, the scene at the restaurant--and the family which runs it--is rather outrageous, as well. Burlesque may apply here, based on the outrageous actions on a grand scale.

In general terms, the especially exaggerated Negro dialect is spoken by the most humorous characters. The men in Janie's life all have rather absurd moments, as well. This would probably be considered hyperbole--exaggeration used for humorous effect. 

The men in the novel are generally more caricatured than the women, and caricatures are humorous depictions of reality--probably closest in definition to parody.

bwestbrook eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The characters in the novel do a lot of "signifying," that is, making humorous and satirical remarks to each other and about each other.  Signifying is part of the African American oral tradition and Hurston uses this device a great deal.  For example, Janie says that Joe Starks has a "throne in the seat of his pants, "  implying that he is authoritarian and overbearing. At the same time she is making fun of him in a passive aggressive way. The porch sitters often make the same kind of remarks about other townspeople.

Also the outrageous hyperbole of the mule story is both absurd and humorous and would qualify as burlesque.

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Their Eyes Were Watching God

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