Zora Neale Hurston novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God is a very important piece of literature written in the late 30’s which told the story of a woman and her struggle and quest as a black person, a woman and most importantly, a human being with unique goals and desires. The story followed an ambitious woman and her quest for self-realization and self-discovery together with her experiences as wives and partners of numerous men.
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, a black thinker who lived in almost the same era as Zora Neale Hurston, the author of the novel had introduced an important theoretical model and concept that will be useful for the analysis and interpretation of any reader of Their Eyes Watching God’s. Du Bois’ concept on double consciousness became a very important perspective and lenses in seeing Hurston work. In this paper, we are going to argue that in the majority of the novel, Du Bois theory on double consciousness dictated much of the affairs and events in the novel of Hurston.
Influenced by this particular framework, the novel became a very important derivative of this Du Bois’ particular idea that encroached not only on his original conception of double consciousness but also its development and occurrence on numerous areas and topics that diversified from its original idea. The Novel The novel started with the controversial return of Janie in the town she formerly hailed with her former husband. She was confident and at the same time aloof for many of the town people that saw her.
Different gossips had spread with her return, mostly negative and against her experiences and characters. At the same time, these accusations are untrue. The only person who talked to her was her old friend in the name of Pheoby Watson. With her conversation with Pheoby, the story of Janie and her struggle and quest was told and revealed (Hurston 8-9). Reading the story, one cannot oversee the kind of language or voice wherein the story was written. The kind of language that was used gave a very unique distinction with the story. The novel was enveloped with an active voice that gave much life reading it.
In short, the novel or the story was told rather than being written. The use of a colorful and trendy black language is widespread in the whole story. The statement like, “Dat’s what Ah say ‘bout dese ole women runnin’ after young boys” is common on the entirety of the novel (Hurston 5). In many cases and speeches, the use of proper English both in writing and speech was disregarded. This kind of telling the story had tried to mirror the black culture that it is trying to tell. The entire novel is a recollection of the events in the life of Janie.
Set in the past, she tried to refresh the memories and experiences of her former affairs and relationships to different men that managed to transform her to what she is at present. Her affairs that mostly end in a tragedy had managed to mold Janie to a kind of person that is strong and firmly grounded inside. Her story of numerous conflicts with herself and the men that she related, together with the environment and the other people around her had managed to release her from the dilemma of having two consciousness circling her thoughts and actions in the past.
Double Consciousness Du Bois double consciousness is explained as being caught up in two worlds. More particularly described as the dilemma of the Black people living in a white world in the western culture, the blacks were forced by the society in general to have a dream and aspiration in accordance to the white’s vision. This is happening at the same time with his vision to retain his blackness, the vision and goals that were enveloped on being a black (McWhorther 1, 14). However, this specific kind of interpreting double consciousness can be expounded to more general terms.
As what is done in Hurston’s novel, this theory on double consciousness was no longer exclusive on a black person quest for identity in a white men’s world. Rather, the theory had shown that double consciousness can also manifest in one’s quest for the realization of his sex and gender. More importantly, double consciousness was used for a person’s quest for the discovery of his or her humanity. Janie, the central character in the novel had shown the numerous issues that are revolving on her character. First is the double consciousness that arose out of her grandmother’s pragmatism.
Her marriage for Logan in the earlier part of the novel was largely based on her grandmother’s idea on what the basis of the marriage should be. For her grandmother, the most important criterion that she must consider in choosing her husband is the security that the man can gave to him. This means both economic and physical security. It is important to note that this idea is made possible by her grandmother’s experience of discrimination and oppression (Hubert 20-21). On the other hand, this kind of idea of pragmatic marriage conflicted with Janie’s desire for a marriage that is based on love, commitment, adventures and passion.
Though she followed her grandmother’s request at first, she soon followed this innate and suppressed dream of hers by leaving her first husband in the name of Logan (Hurston 30). Another notable part of the story that discussed Janie’s quest against double consciousness is her relationship with Jody. Jody, a man who was obsessed with his power tried to isolate and suppressed Janie’s innate passion in relating to people. As stated, “He’s uh whirlwind among breezes . . . he’s de wind and we’se de grass. We bend whichever way he blows” (Hurston 60).
These statements only describe how domineering Jody was not only to his wife but also to his people. With her relationship with Jody, much of Janie’s attitudes, desires and wants were pushed into background because of his power domineering husband (Hurston 59-60). The situation in Janie holding a speech in the town meeting is a good example of Jody’s domination. The town requested for the wife of the mayor to make some speeches. However, Jody prevented her wife to make a speech, saying it is inappropriate for a woman to do such things. Janie did not react loudly on her husband’s action (Hubert 29-30).
However, emotions piled inside her which will explode and shall make her not to love her husband in the near future. Again, this is another case of the double consciousness that happened with Janie. Jody wanted to suppress almost all of her association in the rest of the population. However, deep inside Janie, she has a desire to live and associate with the population, no matter what her husband think of them. The falling ill of Jody and his death also posed a double consciousness in the case of Janie. With the death of the mayor, the rest of the town expected the widow to mourn and grieve for a period of time.
However for Janie, she did not felt to grieve or mourn for the death of her husband. Deep inside her, she felt she was freed from the chains that her husband chained on him. For her, it is not the time for sadness but rather a moment for celebration Nevertheless, she still repressed these positive emotions on public and tried to be perceived to be mourning (Hurston 105-106). Again, this is a conflict of what the society expected to be her action and what she want to do for and by herself. Clearly, this is another notable instance of double consciousness that the novel had shown to us.
Conclusion Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God is a novel that corresponded much of the idea of Du Bois in relation to double consciousness. However, Hurston writing had managed to expound the usual definition of Dubois on double consciousness. Rather than being stacked on a black person’s journey of self-realization and self-discovery in the land of the whites, Hurston had provided us a more diverse use of Du Bois’ theory. She tried to teach us that in many cases, there is a conflict between what the society, the environment and the people around and ourselves.
The societies where we belong continuously provide expectations and limitation to each one of us. However, in many cases, what we want to aspire and what we want to do does not correspond what the society expect from us. From here, a conflict develops which later became a dilemma that we have to figure out to solve. The concept of double consciousness is a very important concept that we must all ponder and figure out. Every one of us that is caught in the web of these dilemmas is hold back in the pursuit of our dreams and happiness.
Unless we managed to break free from the issues and dilemma that double consciousness had bear to us and act on our own desires and intentions, we cannot really realize and actualize ourselves towards our real happiness. Works Cited Hubert, Christopher. Zora Neale Hurston’s Their eyes were watching God. Research & Education Association. 2001. Web. Accessed 16 May 2010. Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. Lippincott Company. Philadelphia. 1937. Print. Accessed 16 May 2010. McWhorter, John. Double Consciousness in Black America. CATO Policy Report Vol. XXV No. 2. March April 2003. Print. Accessed 16 May 2010.