Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Their Eyes Were Watching God book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Download Their Eyes Were Watching God Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Significant Allusions

Zora Neale Hurston includes several historical and biblical allusions in Their Eyes Were Watching God. These allusions enable her to effectively represent the lives and experiences of African Americans in the decades after the Civil War.

Historical Allusions: Like many authors, Hurston relies heavily on historical allusions. In Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston’s use of historical allusions center on the influence of post-Civil War oppression and racism on black communities, relationships, and identities. Here are two of the novel’s most prominent historical allusions:

  • Hurston refers to the Civil War (1861–1865), especially at the beginning of the novel. Janie’s grandmother, Nanny, was a slave who escaped an abusive master who raped her and fathered her daughter, Leafy. Many of Nanny’s values and priorities, including financial independence and social status, stem from her experience as a former slave. Other historical figures relating to the Civil War are also mentioned, such as Abraham Lincoln and General Sherman.
  • The novel mostly takes place in Eatonville, Florida, which was founded on August 15, 1887, and was one of the first all-black self-governing towns in the United States. Though Their Eyes Were Watching God has been criticized for pandering to white audiences by its seemingly simplistic portrayal of African Americans, critics have praised Hurston for accurately capturing the beauty of black communities in her portrayal of Eatonville.

Biblical Allusions: Hurston incorporates many biblical allusions into the plot of Their Eyes Were Watching God. Like many black communities in the south, Eatonville’s characters would have been very familiar with the Bible. Christianity would also have been an important part of life for Janie and her friends and family. Here are three of the novel's major biblical allusions: 

  • Nanny likely alludes to a passage in the book of Numbers when she tells Janie that she would have taken “a broom and a cook-pot and throw up a highway through de wilderness for [Leafy],” Janie’s mother. According to Numbers 32:13 , the “Lord’s anger was kindled against Israel, and He made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until all the generation, that had done evil in the sight of...

(The entire section is 560 words.)