Their Eyes Were Watching God

Their Eyes Were Watching God Hurston: Part of the Harlem Renaissance?

The time in which it was written, along with the fact that Hurston had lived in New York City caused many to label the book as a product of the Harlem Renaissance. This was a period from the end of World War I through the middle of the Great Depression during which a group of talented African-American writers produced a body of poetry, fiction, drama, and essays. One of the quintessential themes of the Harlem Renaissance was the notion of "twoness," a divided awareness of one's identity. The major proponent of this notion was W.E.B. DuBois, one of the founders of the NAACP. He argues in the Souls of Black Folks that blacks can always sense their twoness: "American and Negro, two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled stirrings: two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder." Twoness is a subtle theme in the novel, but is exemplified by Janie's divided feelings over Logan­ as an ideal husband in her Grandmother's slave mentality­ but as far from her own ideal man.

Other common themes of the Harlem Renaissance were alienation, the use of folk material, and the use of the blues tradition. The Harlem Renaissance was a movement across every form of art, from literature to jazz to painting to drama.

Despite the fact that she wrote in a particular era and geographical area, Hurston held political views that were quite different from other Harlem Renaissance writers. Unlike communist-sympathizers like Langston Hughes, Hurston supported the Back to Africa movement led by Marcus Garvey. Hurston's writings were, in some ways, fostered by the Harlem Renaissance but they extended far beyond its themes and political agenda. Part of what makes Their Eyes an exceptional book, is that it extends beyond the themes fashionable among a decade's literati.