Their Eyes Were Watching God

In 1937, the novelist Richard Wright (Native Son) reviewed Their Eyes Were Watching God. He argued: “Miss Huston voluntarily continues in her novel the tradition which was forced upon the Negro in the theater, that is, the minstrel technique that makes ‘the white folks’ laugh….The novel carries no theme, no message, no thought. In the main, her novel is not addressed to the Negro, but to a white audience whose chauvinistic tastes she knows how to satisfy.” How would you answer his criticism?

    “Williams taught Their Eyes Were Watching God for the first time at Cal State Fresno, in a migrant area where the students, like the characters in Their Eyes, were used to making a living for themselves from the land. ‘For the first time’, Williams says, ‘they saw themselves in these characters and they saw their lives portrayed with joy.”(pg ix)   Zora Neale Hurston’s, Their Eyes Were Watching God was a highly debated topic in literature during the Harlem Renaissance. Although this novel received much criticism from fellow African American authors such as Richard Wright, Hurston’s unconventional style has transcended through time as a great literary work. Is it fair to ostracize a piece of work because of its unique and complex style?
    Hurston’s novel was written during the Harlem Renaissance where the main topic was racism. This theme was depicted throughout several novels including Wright’s Native Son in an attempt show black difference. Hurston used a different approach; her use of southern colloquialism added such depth and richness to the novel. “If Ah kin haul de wood heah and chop it fuh yuh, look lak you oughta be able tuh tote it inside” (pg 25); the use of southern dialect depicts blacks as they are and not how they should be. Richard Wright also used this type of dialect in his novel Native Son but not to the extent as Hurston. Wright’s purpose of dialect in his novel was to achieve a different goal than from Hurston’s. Her goal was to capture the...