Their Eyes Were Watching God

Hurston and Her Novel's Critics: Racism, the Harlem Renaissance, and the Disputed Merits of The Eyes Were Watching God College

“The sensory sweep of her 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” – Richard Wright.

Although Zora Neale Hurston’s novel Their Eyes Were Watching God[1] was published during the tail end of the Harlem Renaissance, her novel is widely considered to fall within the brackets of its literary movement. However, her work provoked substantial criticism from other black writers and critics of the period; the focus of this criticism was her apparent failure to align her writing with the aims and values of the Harlem Renaissance movement. Perhaps the most censorious of this criticism is that of Richard Wright; in his New Masses article “Between Laughter and Tears”[2], Wright chastises Hurston’s work for carrying “no theme, no message, no thought”[3]. Certainly, comparisons of Their Eyes with other key instances of Harlem Renaissance literature that directly confront racism, may initially appear to highlight the novels ‘ignorance’ to the social and political issues of race that saturated its contextual backdrop. However, removing Hurston’s novel from the overshadowing boldness of her contemporaries...

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