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

Their Eyes Were Watching God

by Zora Neale Hurston

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So, you’re going to teach Their Eyes Were Watching God, a mainstay of English classrooms and Zora Neale Hurston’s most iconic work. Whether it’s your first or hundredth time guiding students through the novel, this teaching guide will ensure a rewarding experience for everyone—including you. Studying Their Eyes Were Watching God will expose students to the rhetorical power of literary devices like allusion, symbolism, and narrative voice. Students will also engage with worthwhile themes surrounding gender roles and the African American experience in the early 20th century. This guide highlights the text's most salient aspects to keep in mind before you begin teaching.

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Facts at a Glance

  • Publication Date: 1937 
  • Flesch-Kincaid Reading Level:
  • Approximate Word Count: 66, 800 
  • Author: Zora Neale Hurston 
  • Country of Origin: United States of America 
  • Genre: Bildungsroman, African American Literature 
  • Literary Period: Harlem Renaissance 
  • Conflict: Person vs. Person, Person vs. Self, Person vs. Society 
  • Narration: Third-Person Omniscient 
  • Setting: Early 1900s. Eatonville, Florida; the Everglades 
  • Structure: Prose Novel 
  • Dialect: Southern Vernacular 
  • Mood: Sympathetic, Affirming, Celebratory, Compassionate, Somber yet Hopeful 

Texts That Go Well with Their Eyes Were Watching God

The Awakening by Kate Chopin. Another novel with feminist themes set in the turn-of-the-century American South, The Awakening follows Edna Pontellier, a married women who longs for freedom in a society that systematically represses her. 

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. Similar to Hurston’s novel, The Bluest Eye is a bildungsroman that follows the growth of two African American girls, Pecola and Claudia, during the Second Great migration of African Americans during the 1940s. The novel draws many parallels to Their Eyes Were Watching God, from the genre to the narrative style that mixes first person with omniscient narration. 

Cane by Jean Toomer. Like Hurston, Toomer was a prominent figure of the Harlem Renaissance. Cane, which was published in 1923, is a collection of vignettes that explore African American life in the United States. 

The Color Purple was written by Alice Walker, an author heavily influenced by Hurston. The Color Purple is an epistolary novel that centers on the lives of African American women living in rural Georgia during the 1930s. 

Mules and Men by Zora Neale Hurston. Written shortly before Their Eyes Were Watching God, Mules and Men is Hurston’s anthropological study of black tradition in Florida and New Orleans, told through folkloric prose. 

Native Son by Richard Wright. This novel follows Bigger Thomas, a convicted black man. While the novel tells his story, it also speaks to the utter poverty of 1930s Chicago and the hopelessness of the black experience during this period. 

Not Without Laughter by Langston Hughes. Written in 1930, Not Without Laughter is a novel about Sandy, a boy navigating “the beautiful realities of black life in a small Kansas town.” Hughes, who was another major fixture of the Harlem Renaissance, examines the impact of class, racism, and religion on the black community. 

Plum Bun: A Novel Without a Moral by Jessie Redmon Fauset. Like Their Eyes Were Watching God, Plum Bun is a bildungsroman. The novel exposes and criticizes racism, sexism, and capitalism in its depiction of Angela, a light-skinned African American girl who passes for white because she wants to achieve her full potential.

The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois. Published in 1903, The Souls of Black Folk is widely considered to be a cornerstone of African American literature. The text is a collection of essays that draw upon Du Bois’s experience as a black man living in the United States. Du Bois’s work was a major influence on writers like Hurston.

When Harlem Was In Vogue by David Levering Lewis is a historical volume which explores the rise of renowned African American authors and artists during the intellectual and artistic boom of the Harlem Renaissance.

Film Adaptation 

Their Eyes Were Watching God, 2005 film adaptation. Directed by Darnell Martin, produced by Oprah Winfrey and Quincy Jones, and starring Halle Berry as Janie and Michael Ealy as Tea Cake. 

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Key Plot Points