The world of Janie Crawford in Their Eyes Were Watching God was one of oppression and disappointment. She left the world of her suffocating grandmother to live with a man whom she did not love, and in fact did not even know. She then left him to marry another man who offered her wealth in terms of material possessions but left her in utter spiritual poverty. After her second husband's death, she claims responsibility and control of her own life, and through her shared love with her new husband, Teacake, she is able to overcome her status of oppression. Zora Neale Hurston artfully and effectively shows this victory over oppression throughout the book through her use of language. Her use of such stylistic devices as free indidrect discourse and signifting allow her to use language as power; the power for a black woman to realize her own potential.
The voice which Hurston creates is marked by her intertwining of black vernacular and standard English to create a seemless, fluid narration. The combination of the two seemingly dichotomous aspects of language is called the "speakerly text" by Henry Louis Gates in his essay of the same name, and is also more commonly called free indirect discourse. The scene in which Mayor Starks, Janie's husband, has erected the new street lamp for the town, exemplifies Hurston's use of free indirect discourse. Janie and her husband first speak to each other using the recognizable black dialect of the region:
"Well, honey, how yuh like bein' Mrs. Mayor?"
"It's all right Ah reckon, but don't yuh think it keeps us in a kinda strain?"
The omniscient third person narrator then captures J...
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Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York: Harper & Row, 1937.
Johnson, Barbara. "Metaphor, Metonymy and Voice in Their Eyes Were Watching God." Modern Critical Interpretations:
Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987.
Kubitschek, Missy Dehn. " 'Tuh de Horizon and Back': The Female Quest in Their Eyes Were Watching God." Modern Critical
Interpretations: Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987.
Pondrom, Cyrena N. "The Role of Myth in Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God." American Literature 58.2 (May 1986): 181-202.
Williams, Shirley Anne. Forward. Their Eyes Were Watching God. By Zora Neale Hurston. New York: Bantam-Dell, 1937. xv.
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