Zora Neale Hurston described the study of anthropology as a spy-glass, an illuminating lens (1). Anthropology is defined as the scientific study of the origin, the behavior, and the physical, social, and cultural development of humans (2). Through this study and with the aid of an essay defining human nature written by Cardinal Jean Daniello, we can take a closer look at the behavior of the characters in Hurston's novels Their Eyes Were Watching God and Jonah's Gourd Vine. Hurston uses her anthropological lens to create complex characters in these two works.
Hurston began her study of anthropology at Barnard College in the 1920s where she concentrated on African American culture and folklore. Hurston became the first African American to chronicle African American voodoo and folklore (1). The publications Mules and Men and Tell My Horse are works that directly incorporate her anthropological field notes on Black folklore and tradition (1).
Hurston’s background with anthropology was the foundation for her future fiction writings. The title of her first novel, Jonah’s Gourd Vine, reflects Hurston’s passion for storytelling and folklore because it is inspired by a biblical story. The story tells of Jonah, who has a beautiful plant growing around him. However, God destroys it because Jonah does not appreciate it and it leads to his fall. Therefore, the story becomes a metaphor for the fall of John Pearson.
In the novel, Hurston utilizes the personal experiences with her family to create complex characters in the story. It centers on John Pearson, a man who lusts after many women. John’s desire for women at times appe...
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... imply the fixity" that some people want it to. John's behavior is not a product of human nature. What is natural is not an excuse for a person's wrong-doing. No characters in these novels share the same imperfections. Everyone is flawed, but there is still control. Under Hurston's anthropological lens, one can better understand her complex characters and their motivations in these stories.
1) American Feminist for Anthropology. "Zora Neale Hurston." April 10, 2005. http://sscl.berkeley.edu/~afaweb/Hurston%20Bio.htm.
3) Danielou, Cardinal Jean. "Does Human Nature Exist?" April 10, 2005. http://www.ewtn.com/library/THEOLOGY/NATEXIST.htm
4) Hurston, Zora Neale. Jonah's Gourd Vine. HarperCollins Publisher: New York, 1990.
5) Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. HarperCollins Publisher: New York. 1998.
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