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Islington Branch Book Club - Past Titles: "Their Eyes Were Watching God" by Zora Neale Hurston

Take a look through previous titles we've discussed at our Islington Branch Book Club

"Their Eyes Were Watching God" by Zora Neale Hurston

  1. Janie's Journey: Trace Janie Crawford's journey throughout the novel. How does she evolve as a character from the beginning to the end of the story? What pivotal moments or relationships shape her understanding of herself and her place in the world?

  2. Themes of Identity and Independence: Discuss the theme of identity as it relates to Janie's quest for independence and self-realization. How does Janie navigate societal expectations and gender roles in her search for autonomy and agency? In what ways does she assert her own identity and define her own destiny?

  3. Love and Relationships: Analyze the romantic relationships depicted in the novel, including Janie's marriages to Logan Killicks, Joe Starks, and Tea Cake Woods. How do these relationships reflect Janie's evolving sense of self? What do they reveal about the nature of love, partnership, and intimacy?

  4. Community and Culture: Explore the role of community and culture in the novel, particularly in the context of Eatonville, Florida, and the Everglades. How do the social dynamics of these settings shape Janie's experiences and relationships? How does Hurston depict the traditions, customs, and folklore of the African American community?

  5. Language and Narrative Style: Reflect on Hurston's use of language and narrative style in the novel. How does she incorporate elements of African American Vernacular English (AAVE) to capture the rhythms and cadences of speech? How does the storytelling technique contribute to the overall impact and authenticity of the narrative?

  6. Symbolism and Imagery: Discuss the symbolism and imagery employed in the novel, such as the horizon, the pear tree, and the mule. What do these symbols represent, and how do they enrich the thematic and emotional resonance of the story?

  7. Racial and Gender Dynamics: Consider the novel's portrayal of race and gender dynamics in early 20th-century America. How do issues of race and gender intersect in Janie's experiences and interactions with others? How does Hurston challenge stereotypes and conventional narratives about African American women?

  8. Nature and the Environment: Reflect on the significance of nature and the environment in the novel, particularly in the Everglades scenes. How does the natural world serve as a backdrop for Janie's journey of self-discovery and transformation? What symbolic meanings can be attributed to elements of nature in the story?

  9. Voice and Agency: Explore the theme of voice and agency in the novel, particularly in relation to Janie's quest for self-expression and empowerment. How does she reclaim her voice and assert her agency in a society that seeks to silence and marginalize her?

  10. Legacy and Influence: Consider the legacy and influence of "Their Eyes Were Watching God" in American literature and culture. How has the novel contributed to discussions about race, gender, and identity? What enduring lessons or insights can readers glean from Hurston's masterpiece?

Early Life and Education: Zora Neale Hurston was born on January 7, 1891, in Notasulga, Alabama, but grew up in Eatonville, Florida, one of the first all-Black towns in the United States. Hurston's upbringing in Eatonville, where her father served as mayor, deeply influenced her later work, providing her with a rich cultural heritage and a strong sense of pride in her African American identity.

Despite facing financial challenges, Hurston pursued her education with determination. She attended Howard University, where she studied anthropology and literature, and later transferred to Barnard College, becoming one of the first African American students to enroll at the institution.

Literary Career: Hurston's literary career began to flourish during the Harlem Renaissance, a cultural and intellectual movement of the 1920s and 1930s that celebrated African American art, music, and literature. She became associated with prominent figures of the Harlem Renaissance, including Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen.

Hurston gained recognition for her innovative use of African American Vernacular English (AAVE) and her vivid portrayals of Black life in the rural South. Her most famous novel, "Their Eyes Were Watching God" (1937), is considered a classic of African American literature, exploring themes of love, identity, and self-discovery through the story of protagonist Janie Crawford.

In addition to her novels, Hurston wrote numerous short stories, essays, and plays, showcasing her talent for capturing the complexities of African American culture and experience. She also collected and preserved African American folklore, conducting anthropological research in the rural South and the Caribbean.

Anthropological Work: Hurston's contributions to anthropology were groundbreaking, particularly her studies of African American folklore and oral traditions. She conducted fieldwork in the South and the Caribbean, collecting folktales, songs, and religious rituals that had been passed down through generations of African Americans.

Her anthropological research influenced her literary work, infusing her writing with authentic voices and cultural insights. Hurston's commitment to preserving African American folklore and traditions helped to elevate the significance of Black culture in academic and literary circles.

Later Life and Legacy: Despite her early success, Hurston faced financial struggles and literary obscurity later in life. She continued to write and lecture but struggled to find publishers for her work. In 1960, she suffered a stroke and passed away in poverty on January 28, 1960, in Fort Pierce, Florida.

Hurston's literary legacy was revived in the late 20th century, thanks to the efforts of scholars and writers who recognized her importance in American literature. Today, she is celebrated as one of the most significant voices of the Harlem Renaissance and a pioneering figure in African American literature and cultural studies.

Her work continues to be studied and celebrated for its rich storytelling, vibrant characters, and profound insights into the African American experience. Hurston's contributions to literature and anthropology have had a lasting impact, inspiring generations of writers, scholars, and readers around the world.


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