Approaches to Teaching Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God and Other Works

  • Editor: John Lowe
  • Pages: ix & 207 pp.
  • Published: 2009
  • ISBN: 9781603290449 (Paperback)
  • ISBN: 9781603290432 (Cloth)
Approaches to Teaching Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God and Other Works Cover

“A worthwhile pick for literary collections.”

Midwest Book Review

“The strength of this volume is that it presents Hurston’s work from a variety of perspectives and thus conveys to teachers the richness and complexity of her work—and the critical controversies surrounding it.”

—Susan Meisenhelder, California State University, San Bernardino

Zora Neale Hurston emerged as a celebrated writer of the Harlem Renaissance, fell into obscurity toward the end of her life, yet is now recognized as a great American author. Her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God is popular among general readers and is widely taught in universities, colleges, and secondary schools. A key text of African American and women’s literature, it has also been studied by scholars interested in the 1930s, small-town life, modernism, folklore, and regionalism, and it has been viewed through the lenses of dialect theory, critical race theory, and transnational and diasporan studies.

Considering the ubiquity of Hurston’s work in the nation’s classrooms, there have been surprisingly few book-length studies of it. This volume helps instructors situate Hurston’s work against the various cultures that engendered it and understand her success as short story writer, playwright, novelist, autobiographer, folklorist, and anthropologist. Part 1 outlines Hurston’s publication history and the reemergence of the author on the literary scene and into public consciousness. Part 2 first concentrates on various approaches to teaching Their Eyes, looking at Hurston’s radical politics and use of folk culture and dialect; contemporary reviews of the novel, including contrary remarks by Richard Wright; Janie’s search for identity in Hurston’s all-black hometown, Eatonville; and the central role of humor in the novel. The essays in part 2 then take up Hurston’s other, rarely taught novels, Jonah’s Gourd Vine, Moses, Man of the Mountain, and Seraph on the Suwanee. Also examined here are Hurston’s anthropological works, chief among them Mules and Men, a staple for many years on American folklore syllabi, and Tell My Horse, newly reconsidered in Caribbean and postcolonial studies.

Kimberly J. Banks
Margaret D. Bauer
Kimberly D. Blockett
Elizabeth Brown-Guillory
Carla Cappetti
James C. Hall
Trudier Harris
Carolyn M. Jones
Nellie Y. McKay
Deborah G. Plant
Annette Trefzer
Cheryl A. Wall
Genevieve West
Gay Wilentz
Dana A. Williams

Acknowledgments (ix)

Preface (1)

PART ONE: MATERIALS

John Lowe

Editions and Anthologies (7)

Courses and Contexts (7)

The Instructor’s Library (8)

PART TWO: APPROACHES

Introduction (15)

John Lowe

Their Eyes Were Watching God

Teaching Their Eyes Were Watching God and the Process of Canon Formation (21)

Genevieve West

False Gods and “Caucasian Characteristics for All”: Hurston’s Radical Vision in Their Eyes Were Watching God (27)

Gay Wilentz

History, Mythology, and the Proletarian in Their Eyes Were Watching God (37)

Carla Cappetti

Laughin’ Up a World: Humor and Identity in Their Eyes Were Watching God (54)

John Lowe

Celebrating Bigamy and Other Outlaw Behaviors: Hurston, Reputation, and the Problems Inherent in Labeling Janie a Feminist (67)

Trudier Harris

Vehicles for Their Talents: Hurston and Wright in Conflict in the Undergraduate Literature Classroom (81)

James C. Hall

The Seams Must Show: Their Eyes Were Watching God as an Introduction to Deconstruction (89)

Dana A. Williams

Other Works by Hurston

Modes of Black Masculinity in Jonah’s Gourd Vine (93)

John Lowe

Freedom and Identity in Hurston’s Moses, Man of the Mountain (105)

Carolyn M. Jones

Politics of Self: Individualist Perspectives in Seraph on the Suwanee (120)

Deborah G. Plant

Polyvocality and Performance in Mules and Men (131)

Kimberly J. Banks and Cheryl A. Wall

Between Mimesis and Mimicry: Teaching Hurston’s Tell My Horse (147)

Annette Trefzer

Telling Tales in Dust Tracks on a Road: Hurston’s Portrait of an Artist (157)

Kimberly D. Blockett and Nellie Y. McKay

From Gilded Garden to Golden Anniversary: Teaching Hurston’s “The Gilded Six-Bits” (164)

Margaret D. Bauer

Africanisms in Hurston’s The First One, Color Struck, and Mule Bone (171)

Elizabeth Brown-Guillory

Notes on Contributors (183)

Survey Participants (187)

Works Cited (189)

Index (205)