From the very first instance of a character speaking in Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston’s writing style makes the reader take notice:
“What she doin coming back here in dem overhalls?”
Much has been said about Hurston’s use of vernacular speech in the book. Fellow writer Richard Wright criticized Hurston for what he saw as giving white readers the stereotypes of African Americans that they expected.
However, after the revival of interest in her work in the 1970s and beyond, those same characters’ speech patterns were no longer seen as pandering to white readers but a reflection of Hurston’s anthropological training, her affirmation of people as they are, and her outright talent as a writer:
“Her fidelity to diction, metaphor, and syntax… rings, even across forty years, with an aching familiarity that is a testament to Hurston’s skill and to the durability of black speech.”
–Sherley Anne Williams, Foreword to Their Eyes Were Watching God (Univ. of Illinois Press, 1978)
How do you feel about the way Janie speaks? Do you find it easy to follow along? What impact does it have on the story? Is it more real to you, or is it a stumbling block to understanding?
“Between Laughter and Tears,” review of Their Eyes Were Watching God written by Richard Wright (New Masses, (5 October 1937: 22-23).
Reviews of Their Eyes Were Watching God, 1937-1938 (Univ. of Virginia)
The Sound of 1930s Florida Folk Life (NPR): Zora Neale Hurston participated in a WPA program that documented Florida culture in the 1930s. Hear her sing “Evalina.” Hear Zora Neale Hurston’s recordings held by the Florida Memory Project
Ruby Dee reads an excerpt of Their Eyes Were Watching God (HarperAudio) (via Salon.com)