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Use of the Southern Black Vernacular in Their Eyes Were Watching God
"The monstropolous beast had left his bed. The two hundred miles an hour wind had loosed his chains. He seized hold of his dikes and ran forward until he met the quarters; uprooted them like grass and rushed on after his supposed-to-be conquerors, rolling the dikes, rolling the houses, rolling the people in the houses along with other timbers. The sea was walking the earth with a heavy heel.
‘De’ lake is comin’!’ Tea Cake gasped."J
This excerpt from Zora Neale Hurston’s book, Their Eyes Were watching God, is an example of her amazing writing. She makes us feel as if we are actually in her book, through her use of the Southern Black vernacular and admirable description. Her characters are realistic and she places special, well thought out sentences to keep us interested. Zora Neale Hurston’s art enables her to write this engaging story about a Southern black woman’s life.
Mrs. Hurston uses Southern Black dialect through out the book. This is appropriate because all of the dialog is between Blacks who grew up in the deep South. Some authors that write in a dialect totally confuse their readers. However, Mrs. Hurston’s writing does not confuse us at all. One particular example of this is on page 102. Tea Cake starts off saying, "‘Hello, Mis’ Janie, Ah hope Ah woke you up.’ ‘Yo sho did, Tea Cake. Come in and rest yo’ hat. Whut you doin’ out so soon dis mornin’?’" Janie replied. This dialog is easily to understand. The reader really gets the feeling of the speech because reading it is just like listening to it. Mrs. Neale also knows where to stop writing in dialect. All of the narration and description in the book are in plain English: she does not confuse us by putting narration in dialect, only the speech of characters is in dialect. This part of Zora Neale Hurston’s art adds to the story without confusing the reader.
Mrs. Hurston not only uses the vernacular of the Deep South she also uses Southern traditional legends. One example of this is how the book refers to death. Death is called the, "Square-toed one," that comes from the West. Even if the reader is not familiar with referring to death as the, "Square-toed one," the use of traditional legends helps to make us feel like we are where the book took place.
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Zora Neale Hurston hides what Johnathan Nicholas called "nuggets" throughout her work. These pleasurable bits of writing make the book much more enjoyable to read. On page 125, this passage appears,
"Day by day now, the hordes of workers poured in. Some came limping in with their shoes and sore feet from walking. It’s hard trying to follow your shoe instead of your shoe following you."
Even though the second sentence does not quite make sense when you look at it closely, the whole paragraph is wonderful, conveying the desperate feeling of the people. We all know the feeling that we get when we are utterly exhausted from walking all day, but it takes a great artist to name that feeling. Zora did. "Following our shoes" is a perfect description of this feeling. Mrs. Hurston puts in deep thoughts like this once about every dozen pages. They keep the reader interested in the book by making him think for a few seconds. They also make us keep reading, as we look forward to finding the next tidbit.
Part of Mrs. Hurston’s art is the way her characters act. Readers can relate to them because their actions are realistic. This is especially apparent when Janie and Tea Cake first meet on page 91. They are both laughing at the weakest jokes. This is realistic because they both like each other and they want to humor each other to let their relationship grow. The readers know how even the smallest thing seems funny when you are in the company of someone you like. The readers can relate better to the characters because the characters act realistically.
Their Eyes Were Watching God stands out among literary works because of Mrs. Hurston’s mastery of writing. It is unfortunate that the book was unappreciated during her lifetime but at least we can appreciate it now.