Term Paper: Female Elements in Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

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Female Elements in "Their Eyes Were Watching God"

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The research paper explores the female elements in the novel "Their Eyes Were Watching God" by Zora Neal Hurston. It is the story of Jane, a black woman who was born when her mother was raped by a teacher. The story revolves around Jane's struggle for identity and self-esteem. . The novel represents the desire for autonomy, in particular under a banished community which relies on an individual's maintenance of common bonds. In such a society the women's demand of autonomy is perceived as a threat to the fabric that sustains said community's sense of identity, purpose, and viability.

Through such tropes as a diasporic woman's labor, her rhizomatic pursuit of desire, and the fallacy of authentic blackness, it demonstrates how an African-American woman can achieve salvation by successfully negotiating the status of her body. The point at which these three tropes intersect, the body is a key source of knowledge and empowerment. Accordingly, reclaiming the body from patriarchy's ideas about the type of work that women should do and the manner in which they should express their sexual desires becomes the means by which Janie achieves salvation. In order to represent this particular form of physical redemption through her narrative, Hurston invokes an archetype of post-Edenic labor, in which reclaiming the body in this way requires self-rescue in the form of one's labor and sacrifice

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Introduction

Zora Neale Hurston's "Their Eyes Were Watching God" depicts a sense of ambivalence about black women's limited opportunities to assert them in a male dominated and commodity-obsessed world. True to this conflicted outlook, placing blame is not within the purview of this work. Instead, it depicts one of the central tensions that define the diasporic experience as lived by women of color in America, thereby critiquing the distinctly American privilege of individualism that forces these women to negotiate the rift between individual and communal aspirations. This research paper discusses the female elements in "Their Eyes were Watching God" by Zora Neale. The author has focused on the aspects of the novel related to femininity. The novel is a depiction of a woman's desire for autonomy, especially within an exiled community reliant upon each person's upholding of common bonds, is perceived as a threat to the fabric that sustains said community's sense of identity, purpose, and viability.

Literature Review

Story of Women Struggle

"Their Eyes Were Watching God," is no doubt the life story of the author Zora Neale Hurston. Despite the novelization and ancestral biography, the main character lives a similar life as Zora. Finding the perfect match, failing several times, the efforts, the regrets and the achievements, tells us the story of an African-American woman in a society that discriminates her not only on the basis of male chauvinism but also white racism. The author in real life is well-known for her work in the field of female rights. Having a chance to observe the historical Harlem Renaissance, she well understood the importance of equality and justice despite creed, color, cast and gender. Being the granddaughter of a preacher and the daughter of a mayor, she was genetically a political and social reformist. During her graduation at Howard University, she co-founded Hill Top the student's newspaper. She was a born writer and her most critically acclaimed piece, "Their Eyes Were Watching God" is under our consideration today. (Jones Sharon, 2009)

Their Eyes Were Watching God tells us the story of Janie Crawford who was born when her mother was raped by a teacher and her mother had a similar birth history. While her mother runs away, her grandmother does not want Janie to have a similar fate. So she reacts very strictly when she sees Janie kissing a neighborhood boy. Feared to see history repeating itself, Nanny arranges her marriage with an older farmer, who requires her to be a co-worker and helper for his home and farm more than a wife. Janie, who was disappointed by the absence of love and respect and being treated like a slave, runs off with Jody Starks to Eatonville. Starks is smart enough to buy land there and establish a store. Soon he was elected as a mayor. Janie realizes soon that Starks is just treating her as her trophy wife as he asks her to take care of his business but forbids her to take part in social activities. When Starks passes away, Janie finally finds herself independent enough to live her life the way she always wanted. At this point of her life she decides to marry a man with no higher social status as she had enough of them. She selects a drifter and gambler who go by the name Tea Cake as her life partner.

Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God depicts a sense of ambivalence about black women's limited opportunities to assert themselves in a male dominated and commodity-obsessed world. True to this conflicted outlook, placing blame is not within the purview of these works. Instead, it depicts one of the central tensions that define the diasporic experience as lived by women of color in America, thereby critiquing the distinctly American privilege of individualism that forces these women to negotiate the rift between individual and communal aspirations. The novel illustrates this rift and depicts how a woman's desire for autonomy, especially within an exiled community reliant upon each person's upholding of common bonds, is perceived as a threat to the fabric that sustains said community's sense of identity, purpose, and viability. (William M. Ramsey, 41)

Taking into account the Edenic imagery in the novel that delineates a corrupted world, readers can see how Hurston establishes parallels between the redemption narratives of their respective protagonists and that of the archetypal wanderer-laborers, Adam and Eve. The author conveys within the texts the prospect for the same hard-won salvation that God makes available to Adam and Eve. In accordance with the felix culpa view of the fall, mankind's disobedience enables this salvation to be earned in the sense that the introduction of the priority to labor is a painful yet fulfilling consequence of self-assertion

Thus an act of self-assertion, although potentially self-interested, can open the opportunity for redemption. This is because self-assertion is both a form of labor and means of growth. Elaine Scarry explores this paradox in her book, the Body in Pain: "[work] has been repeatedly placed by the side of physical suffering yet has, at the same time and almost as often, been placed in the company of pleasure, art, imagination, civilization -- phenomena that in varying degrees express man's expansive possibility, the movement out into the world that is the opposite of pain's contractive potential" (Elaine, 169)

Jane as Radical Model of Women's Self-assertion

Within the critical discussion of Their Eyes Were Watching God, these views range from the belief that Janie is a radical model of woman's self-assertion who rebels against the institution of marriage to the felix culpa, or fortunate fall, interpretation of the fall extends the idea that the fall enabled mankind to be redeemed by Christ. The parallel with feminine agency is that an act of seeming disobedience could, in fact, bring about an opportunity for a woman to exerts herself and acts upon her desires. (Scarry 205)

Elaine Scarry (1985) explores this paradox in her book, the Body in Pain. She states that "work has been repeatedly placed by the side of physical suffering yet has, at the same time and almost as often, been placed in the company of pleasure, art, imagination, civilization -- phenomena that in varying degrees express man's expansive possibility, the movement out into the world that is the opposite of pain's contractive potential" (p.169).

The perception that Janie made selfish choices stands in contrast to the more evenhanded analysis that she, at times, just submitted to easy choices, yet eventually recognized that she must make a deliberate effort to perform an act of self-rescue. Some critics share the opinion that she is just a willing participant in the subjugating roles of wife and obedient lover. For example, Pearlie Mae Fisher Peters (1998), focusing on how Janie harnesses "the law of verbal authority," equates Janie's "talking and fighting" with survival and "gaining self-respect" (p 127, 148).

These points of contention aside, the novel seems most interested in objectively depicting consequences, both positive and negative, of a woman's so-called disobedience in the context of humanity's fallen condition. As we see, this disobedience takes the form both of defying the expectations of others and, more significantly, of being untrue to one's authentic self. The consequences of this disobedience, then, are what prompt the painful process of self-discovery and self-rescue.

Familial Connection with Black Community Values

The source of this reading of Janie is that her novel depicts her as believing her sole means of establishing agency is to forsake the familial connection that underpins the black community's values. For example, Janie admits to… [END OF PREVIEW]

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