Their Eyes Were Watching God Their Eyes Were Watching God discussion


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Two Books Here...?

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message 1: by Amy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Amy I've always felt the two voices were an effective method to distinguish between events as they happened and events regarded in retrospect.

The vernacular adds a rough air, like an actual transcript from an interview, whereas the flowery prose sounds like it's coming from someone looking back on their life and maybe imbuing events with more meaning than was immediately apparent at the time.

I wouldn't say that the flowery prose says nothing. I'd say the opposite -- it translates the events of the story into a more complex and dense pseudo-morality play.

Have you ever heard her speak? There's some incredible recordings of her speaking and singing in "Speak, so you can speak again." When she's conversing with the WPA interviewers, you can hear the flowery prose in her voice. I imagine when she was gathering the songs and folktales, she would slip into the local vernacular. I think the two voices in TEWWG also exemplifies how she must have felt her life was like -- slipping between two different worlds.


message 2: by Amy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Amy *shrug*

One man's tripe is another man's treasure.


message 3: by Amy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Amy I do not deny the merit of true scholarship. I do not deny your right to an opinion.

Art appreciation is subjective. The work means different things to different people.

Your argument is not better, you're simply looking at things from a different angle.

Have a lovely day, and goodbye.


message 4: by Pat (last edited Mar 16, 2008 11:46AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Pat Wow, I think I've met you Andrew. You're that one that believes anyone who disagrees with you is not educated enough to understand your point of view. The author's word choice is purposeful. For you, it didn't work. For others, it was more clear and powerful than simply saying "she cried." Were they tears from the pain of the slap, or a deeper emotion? It's as simple as that.


message 5: by Pat (new) - rated it 5 stars

Pat I've been debating whether I should even continue this discussion, and then what I could even say. I shouldn't presume to speak for Amy, and I certainly could have misinterpreted your responses. I apologize. I'm going to try to explain myself. I was scanning for a discussion group that I would feel comfortable enough to join. When I read the 1st two comments I became intrigued with the book and interested in joining the group. Then your response to Amy felt very hostile. You obviously have very strong feelings about the "cheesey" word choice, as did Amy for her own interpretation. You seemed to be saying that if she didn't want to argue (that's my word because that is how it felt to me)then you're right and she's wrong. I was putting myself in Amy's shoes imagining how I would feel about your response if I were to join the group and offer an opinion. I would have left the discussion as well. Hence my compulsion to jump into a depate on a book I can't actually defend as I haven't read it. I sincerely regret that decision. I hope you can see the humor in this. However, I am now planning to read this book, and I'm relieved that we can agree that whether I like the book or not, it's okay to have a different opinion, and perhaps, even end the discussion.


Little Maybe, possibly, Amy was hostile and refused to engage in discussion because you were being antagonistic, Andrew. But hey, go ahead and be antagonistic to me, I won’t get upset.

I’m going to totally disagree with your starting premise that the vernacular writing is “incredible” and that it best expresses Janie’s voice. I felt quite the opposite, in fact. The stories expressed through the vernacular more often seemed to reflect the outside influence of the world (pressure from the Grandmother and the husbands) pressing against Janie, and the prose seemed more indicative of Janie’s inexpressible, unspeakable inside world. More often than not, it was someone else speaking out loud in the vernacular, and Janie’s response was internal, in that purple prose you dislike so much.



Little Hmm... While I did feel that those passages accurately reflected Janie’s thoughts and emotions, you’re right that they didn’t feel as though Janie was directly expressing them. It’s not Janie going “Oh, I felt like the whole world was opening up into bright flowery prose!” It’s an outside narration of how that emotion feels. But I suppose in my own experience, those intense experiences aren’t framed inside my head in a verbal way, they’re more kinesthetic, visual, and emotional, so they don’t translate into words well, and in that sense, it works for me to have an outside narration. Inside Janie’s head it’s *angels singing, glitter, spinning* and the narrator frames those experiences in concrete vocabulary that I share, and thereby makes them accessible for me to understand. I probably feel this way partly because I didn’t relate to the vernacular. I had to concentrate really hard to read it. And the narrated passages just soaked right into my brain, creating kinesthetic, visual, and emotional pictures I could quickly grasp and integrate into my perception of Janie’s experience.

So I suppose it’s not that anything is wrong with Janie speaking the truths of her soul in the vernacular, but to my understanding, she’s not speaking them at all. She’s experiencing them, and the concrete narration just translates that experience into words.


Pamela Coming from a linguistic background rather than a literary one, I have to say I found the contrast between the spoken vernacular and the narration to be one of the most striking aspects of the book.

Although the vernacular was extremely well written and beautifully conveyed the rhythm and sometimes rhyme of the language, to me it was very superficial. I don't mean the dialog itself was superficial, but that the emotion and even the information that it conveyed was superficial. More often than not--especially when men were talking--the dialog was more about conveying cleverness by turning a good phrase rather than imparting anything about how the character was feeling. More about telling a good story than expressing oneself.

(I know I haven't explained this well enough, but being from the South, I see it a lot--especially with men talking to men. Seems they are always vying with each other to come up with the best new phrase. I suppose in a way it could be compared with a form of rapping or street poetry?)

Hurston's short story Harlem Slang takes this to the extreme. She has two males speaking for the entire story and never saying one single thing. Oh, the story is fascinating and her expertise with dialog is something to behold, but when you get to the end, you realize these two guys never said a single thing that told you anything about them--it was all slang. (If you liked the vernacular in this, you will be over the moon with the way Hurston handles the language in that story.)

On the other hand, I found the narrative to be not purple but sensuous. It was Janie as Janie felt. She could not express these feelings in the vernacular because they did not exist in the vernacular. The vernacular (or spoken language) wasn't able to convey this type of information/emotion. It is not unusual for one language is able to express something that another language cannot--the most typical example being the German Schadenfreude. In Janie's/Hurston's world, the sensuous (narrative) voice was able to express all those feelings and hopes and pain that the vernacular could not.

To me, this division of the narrative from the vernacular, the sensuous from the superficial was nothing short of sheer brilliance on Hurston's part. She showed us that not only was Janie restricted by her sex, her race, and her position (as defined by her first two husbands--and to some extent by her third), but even by her own language.

The last paragraph shows Janie being set free. She has Tea Cake with her: He could never be dead until she herself had finished feeling and thinking.

There is also the statement: Here was peace.

She is alone, but she is free, free from all the restrictions--even those of language--that bound her. By turning inward she has become--to use an overused phrase--her own woman.


Christine Perfectly stated Pamela.


message 10: by Annemarie (last edited Feb 17, 2012 05:20PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Annemarie Donahue Not to say again what's been said beautifully by Pamela, but I think the use of two voices was a great choice by Hurston. She had spent most of her time collecting folklore as part of the WPA (and for a private investor) which helped her to create a particular voice and speech pattern for her character Janie. While Janie's vernacular may fly in the face of the more elegant prose narrative I think it blends beautifully together to create this tale of an author and her protagonist telling me this tale from two angles. I dunno, just loved this book. It was my first college read for English and now I'm finishing off my Masters and handing this book off to a fresh new group of freshmen hoping they love it as much as I did.


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