Kingwood College Library

Zora Neale Hurston

Their Eyes Were Watching God

This web / library guide will help you find information for your research assignment both in the library and on Internet. For students at Kingwood College, there are books on reserve at the Circulation Desk. Ask a librarian for assistance.

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Library Resources Internet Sites


The Reference Area is the place to begin your research. Use an assortment the books listed below to get in touch with what literary people are saying about the novel.

Many of the following print materials are available in electronic format in the Literature Resource Center, a Kingwood College Library database.

REF PN771.G27
Vol 7,30,61
Contemporary Literary Criticism [CLC] This multi-volume set contains excerpts from critical essays in books and journals. Use these volumes to 1) select a topic or theme, 2) find the full article or essay in the library, and 3) locate other articles and books from the "Further Reading" section.
REF PS21.M34
Vol 3
Magill's Survey of American Literature Entries include a biography, analysis of the author's work, and brief entries each of the major works.
REF PS153.N5A344 African American Writers These articles are intended to provide an introduction to the work of African American writers. The main body of the text contains a survey of the author's principal writings.
REF PS221.C8
Vol 5
Modern American Literature This series has rather concise biographical and critical entries. You might find it helpful.
REF PS221.T834
Vol 4
Twentieth Century American Criticism This multi-volume set has biographical and general critical entries for most important American authors of this century. It is helpful for an overview.

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Zora Neale Hurston was born in Eatonville, Florida, January 7, 1903 and died on January 28, 1960 in Fort Pierce. Forced to leave school at the age of thirteen to take care of siblings, she was able to attend Howard University and to finish her education with a degree in anthropology from Barnard. She did graduate work at Columbia University.

Careers included employment as an actress, maid, librarian, and college professor; however, she is best known for her work as a writer and folklorist. She is associated with the Harlem Renaissance Movement, a major Black literary and cultural movement in New York's Harlem during the 1920's. The Harlem Renaissance movement stimulated pride and confidence in Black life and culture. Among the talented writers, musicians, playwrights, etc congregated in Harlem at this time were Langston Hughes, Josephine Baker, Eubie Blake, and James Weldon Johnson.

Hurston is said to have influenced the writing of Toni Morrison and Ralph Ellison. Their Eyes Were Watching God is considered her finest work of fiction. Her work is controversial since some of the critics feel that she glosses over Black oppression and focuses on the woman or individual. Others say that this novel is a celebration of Black language and cultural heritage. Hurston died in poverty. Alice Walker (The Color Purple) arranged for a gravestone for Hurston.

Biographical Information in Books

REF E185.96.N68 1992 Notable Black American Women Brief biography, critical analysis of the book, and references.
REF PN41.D5 Vol 51, 86 Dictionary of Literary Biography DLB is a multi-volume work which provides detailed biographical sketches of the authors' literary writings as well as general critical commentary. It is a most useful collection.
REF PS147.A4 Vol 2 American Women Writers A specialized reference work. It contains insightful biographical sketches interlaced with critical commentary. Instructor recommended.
REF PS153.N5A344 African American Writers Specialized, but worth investigating, if only because of its African American focus. Biographical and critical material included.
REF PS261.F54 Fifty Southern Writers after 1900 Biographical. Interesting because of its southern focus, this is a good place to look for ideas since it includes major themes by the author. Bibliography.
PS3515.U789Z465 Dust Tracks on a Road If you have time, this book is recommended. Their Eyes Were Watching God is said to be autobiographical. Read this autobiography by Hurston and draw your own conclusions.

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Setting: Their Eyes Were Watching God takes place in Eatonville, Florida, in the 1920s. Eatonville is and was a completely black self-governing community.

Characters include:

Janie Crawford (Killicks Starks Woods) - a strong and passionate main character in search of self-definition.
Nanny Crawford - Janie's grandmother born and raised a slave and determined that Janie will break the cycle of oppression of black women.
Logan Killicks - Janie's first farmer husband.
Joe Starks - Janie's politically ambitious and successful second husband.
Tea Cake Woods - Janie's third husband. The husband with whom Janie finds real love.
Phoebe Watson - The friend to whom Janie is telling the story of her life.

Themes to Consider:

  • Personal freedom
  • Spiritual vs materialistic value
  • Self identification
  • Use of story-telling framework -
    story within a story
  • Quest for life's experiences
  • Search for autonomy
  • Struggle of a woman to be
    regarded as a person
  • Model of female development
  • Black folklore and folk culture
  • Humor in black literature

Character Information in Books

  • Most of the books listed on this entire page will have information about the characters in the book.
REF PS374.C43M35 Major Characters in American Fiction Long-ish entries on the most important characters.
PN56.4.H37 Characters in 20th-Century Literature Brief entry on the characters in this book under Hurston.

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The following books will help you find additional information. Use them and find others on your own - appropriate to your topic. Once you find a book which interests you, browse through the Reference and Circulating shelves close by for more on the topic. The books selected here all have entries on Hurston or her writing.

REF E184.A1K58
Vol 6
Encyclopedia of Multiculturalism Use the index to find entries on Hurston, Harlem Renaissance, Folklore, and other topics of interest to you.
REF F209.E53 Encyclopedia of Southern Culture Great entries on Southern Folklife, Women's Life, and quite a bit of information throughout on Hurston. Worth spending time with.
REF NX511.N4H37 The Harlem Renaissance: A Historical Dictionary for the Era This book attempts to give brief biographical sketches and entries explaining the culture of Harlem. It references books and articles where more information can be found.
REF PN771.G27
Vol 26: 49-125
Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism A wonderful entry on the Harlem Renaissance. Like Contemporary Literary Criticism, this book offers excerpts from longer works.
PS374.N4S87 The Hammers of Creation: Folk Culture in Modern African American Fiction A good circulating book for anyone interested in the folk literature aspect of this book.
REF PS147.O94
REF PS153.N5O96
Women's Writing in the US
African American Literature
Both of these "Oxford Companion" books have entries on Hurston and more.

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Remember, library loan is available from other NHMCCD colleges and outside the system. Allow time for this free service. Forms for articles from NHMCCD colleges are available at the computer tables. Ask at the circulation desk for forms if you need something outside our system. You may request 3 articles at a time. Try the following databases.

MLA Bibliography
This is the most important database for your research. Use it to find articles in journals and essays. This is not a full-text database but many of the journals will be available in the NHMCCD.
Essay and General Literature 
This database indexes chapters in books. Sometimes it is the only way you can locate an important essay. Search by book title, author, or broad subject (like Harlem Renaissance). The next step is to see if the library has the book. Look in the library catalog by exact title.
PA ResearchII/ProQuest
This full-text multi-discipline database includes articles on literature, although many of the journals are not scholarly or literary.
Academic Search Premier
This is another full-text multi-discipline database from Ebsco.

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The best way to find books about Hurston's work is to use the library catalog. Choose "Subject Keyword" from the menu options and type in Hurston. This will bring up all the subjects which have Hurston in them. Be creative and try several searches. Find a common Library of Congress number and browse the shelves. This is a good way to find books you may not find in the catalog.

Catalog terms you might consider using Subject Keyword are:
Zora Neale Hurston | Their Eyes Were Watching God
African American Writers | Harlem Renaissance | American Women Writers | Characters in Literature | Women in Literature | Self-Actualization

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The Kingwood College Librarians bring your their comments about Their Eyes Were Watching God.

The words bubble and tumble over each other like poetry. When Janie tells her story, you forget that shes using dialect and just want, like her friend Phoeby, to hear the rest of the story. Phoeby sits on the porch listening, not daring to move because she doesnt want the story to end. Youll keep on turning the pages, unable to put the book down because Janie might leave and youve got to hear the rest of the story. What is the story? Its about love and change and a womans place in the world.
--Susan Goodwin

Janie's tale has just about everything: love, sex, violence, and suspense; comedy and tragedy; and unforgettable imagery and dialogue. What more could anyone want?
--Professor Joseph Minton

"Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board." Such a memorable first line! Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston is a story within a story. Janey tells Phoebe Watson the story of her marriages and, through her telling, we watch as she searches for self- definition. While this book is the story of a black woman living in a black community, I really liked it because Hurston ignores the (stereo)typical ethnic issues and writes a story of a woman's life and her personal growth. And while the book is written in rural southern black dialect, instead of slowing me down, I felt the lyrical dialog made the characters come to life. I loved this love story and will read it over and over. My copy is NOT for re-sale.
--Peggy Whitley

Janie longs for love. After two lonely and loveless marriages she meets and marries Tea Cake. He is the love of her life. "He drifted off into sleep and Janie looked down on him and felt a self-crushing love. So her soul crawled out from its hiding place." But Janie's joy is short-lived. They have been together for two years when they get caught in a hurricane, and Tea Cake is bitten by a rabid dog in an attempt to rescue Janie. What happened next? "... the sun went down."
--Ann Jenkins

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Biographical Information Chronology | Bibliography Journals | Essays | Reviews Library References
Harlem Renaissance African American Folklore American Popular Music 1900-1950 The Twenties - Cultural History


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Zora Neale Hurston - Chronology
The life of Ms. Hurston - a chronology.
Zora Neale Hurston- bibliography
Use this bibliography to locate books and articles on Ms. Hurston and Their Eyes Were Watching God. Remember interlibrary loan is available to our students.

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Zora Neale Hurston, American Author
Biographical information, personal observations, and links to other Hurston pages.
Voices from the Gaps
African American women Literature guides from the University of Minnesota. Search by name for Zora Neale Hurston.
Video clip, links to folklore, Harlem Renaissance, and other sites which might be helpful.
Zora Neale Hurston
Written by a student who loved this book. Spend a little time getting to know how this student feels about this work. Very touching. A huge collection of essays, biographical information, photos, & links to other Zora information.

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Zora Neale Hurston - essays
A collection of essays published electronically. You'll want to ask your professor whether these are appropriate for your paper - whether they are or not, they are worth reading.
Perspectives on Gossip
Comparison on the use of gossip in novels from three authors, including Hurston.

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The Harlem Renaissance
Links to authors and artists of the Harlem Renaissance period plus a brief bibliography of books available on this topic. Kingwood will have most of these.
African American Women Dreaming in Color
Harlem Renaissance women and their role in the movement from
Harlem Renaissance Webliography
Find out more about the Harlem Renaissance using this Google guide.

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American Folklore Center
From Library of Congress, this site offers a bibliography and other information about Florida's folklore - some collected by Hurston.
Black Onyx: Black Folktales
An essay and teaching unit on black folktales. Bibliography included.

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Updated 1/30/02 cbg