Zora Neale Hurston's most popular novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, can this be considered an ethnographic text, and why?

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lfawley | College Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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Ethnography is the study of ethnic groups and ethnic group formation. From this perspective, I can clearly see how Hurston's text could be analyzed as an ethnographic text. Look at the formation, for example, of the town of Eatonville. This was Florida's first "black" town, and it grew from being a small, unorganized group of black people living in poverty in one area defined by geography to become a thriving city with its own political organization. Much of what Hurston examines in her work is the role that race plays on community and relationships, on the formations of culture amongst a people who were still in the early stages of defining their own identity that was unique from white culture but equally valid and viable. There are still elements of marginalization at play in her narrative, and the divide between the races is still present, evidencing the time period, but there is also an intense look at community building. We act as observers, much like scientists, and her novel contributes to a larger understanding of the emergent black culture.

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