Hurston Novels The Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s is a great time for black artists; it is a rebirth of art, music, books and poetry. In Zora Neale Hurstons novel Their Eyes Were Watching God Janie, the protagonist, is treated kindly for a black women. She does not go through the torment of black culture during that era or the previous eras. Throughout the book Hurston “fibs” about racial oppression. Janie gets respect by the white people she encounters.
Hurston makes the reader imagine that African-American life is easygoing. Richard Writes critique of Their Eyes Were Watching God is accurate and therefore, the book should not be included in the Harlem Renaissance. Hurston breaks several of the themes of the Harlem Renaissance. One in particular is to make other Americans aware of the African-American experience. Richard Write states, “Their eyes, as a novel, exploits those quaint aspects of Negro life that satisfied the tastes of a white audience. It did for literature what the minstrel show did for theater, that is, made white folks laugh”(1). Write, as a critic, fulfills his duty to critique literature truthfully.
In Hurstons novel she rarely states anything about the reality of the South at that time. “Brothers and sisters, since us cant never expect tuh better our choice, Ah move dat we make Brother Starks our Mayor until we can see further”(40). In this passage Hurston uses a soft pleasant type of diction. In that south at the time, people were not accepted into towns if they were new to the area. Jody, Janies second husband, takes charge and becomes the mayor.
The people in the novel respect Jodie and Janie. Being a black man and also the mayor seems a little strange for the South. Most white people of the South dislike black people because most black people are thought to be only “slaves” even though slavery was abolished. Towards the end of the novel Janie is on trial for the murder of Tea Cake, who is Janies third husband. “We find the death of Vergible Woods to be entirely accidental and justifiable, and that no blame should rest upon the defendant Janie Woods”(179).
Janie is found not guilty for the murder of her husband. The reader thinks that Janie is really lucky. She is, but in history books black people are always guilty in every single trial. It is unheard of that a white jury could find a black person not guilty. Janie accepts that although she is not white; she still gets respect by everyone in the town. For the duration of the book Hurston does not write to protest racial oppression.
This breaks yet another theme of Harlem Renaissance writing. She discusses black life as if it were the same as white life. She neglects to mention any information to protest racial oppression. Hurston does this by writing a melodious novel; it is very appealing to the reader. “What she doin coming back here in dem overhalls? Cant she find no dress to put on? -Wheres dat blue satin dress she left here in?”(2). In this passage Hurston appeals to the reader.
She is trying to use pleasant vernacular while getting her point across. No where does Hurston attempt to state any opposition to racial oppression. Again, she is making the book sound like black culture is effortless and simple. “Tea Cake, Ah clare Ah dont know whut tuh make outa you. Youse so crazy.
You better lemme fix you some breakfast”(102). This sounds exactly like a normal white person conversation. Most blacks of that era could only dream about the getting breakfast in morning. In tradition most blacks would wake up on cold hard earth and go straight to work, and yet Hurston disregards to state reality. Even though the book is fiction, it must obey the three themes of the Harlem Renaissance.
Racial oppression includes lynching and Hurston does not express these racist actions. In the course of the novel Janie does not receive much punishment from any people, and the punishment she does receive is not severe. The only time she is hurt is when Tea Cake beats her to show the town that he is the boss. “Good evenin, Mis Starks,” he said with a sly grin as if they had a good joke together. She was in favor of the story that was making him laugh before she even heard it”(90).
This does not sound like Hurston has written the truth about the South. This whole book contains more fiction than non-fiction. Therefore critiques should ignore this book in the Harlem Renaissance. Hurstons uncontrollable desire to ignore the real truth about racial oppression has left her book in the dark during the Harlem Renaissance. Life for Janie is real light and not very tedious. She goes through life with no major conflicts that portray black traditional life.
Her problem only includes her troubles with her various husbands. Other than that she does not confront any real known problems that blacks had at that time. “Dont need tuh ast me where Ah been all dis time, cause its mah all day job tuh tell yuh”(115). In this particular passage, Tea Cake is very nice to Janie after coming home to a hard days work. His tone and diction is very mellow.
The rest of the book is like this quote as well, where Tea Cake and Janie do not have any harsh conflicts, or they do not have any conflicts with the other people of the town. “She handed over the cigarettes and took the money. He broke the pack and thrust one between his full, purple lips”(91). In this excerpt Janie treats Tea Cake with respect and dignity, something that was not commonly done back in Janies time, and Tea Cake gives that respect and dignity back to Janie. A woman of Janies time could not have been or given respect when she has a lot more to worry about than giving respect to an another black man.
But Janie has to give that same respect to any white person in reality. Yet in the book Janie treats blacks and whites as equals; a rare thing at that time. Another passage that shows the reader that Hurston refuses to state the truth about life is, “But Nanny, Ah wants to want him sometimes. Ah dont want him to do all de wanting”(22). In this quote Hurston tries to tell the reader that Janie can love and cherish someone, and someone can treasure and love Janie back.
Janie has a lot more to worry about than loving somebody. She has to learn the value of her life. Most blacks of Janies time get treated badly. Janie is a very lucky person. She is on the top of the world she does not go through the harsh environment that her fellow brothers and sisters go through.
Hurston breaks the three most important rules of the Harlem Renaissance: to protest racial oppression, to make other Americans aware of the African-American experience, and to define and exalt the African-American heritage experience. Hurston takes no time to include these three major themes of the rebirth. Janie is treated like a white woman of the time. Hurston does not include any evidence of racial oppression. She makes black life seem comfortable and pleasant.
All of this adds up to a potent argument and that is why Their Eyes Were Watching God should be exiled from the Harlem Renaissance.