Aspects of narration and voice in Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God
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Zora Neale Hurston is a significant figure in American fiction and is strongly associated with the Harlem Renaissance, the period noted for the emergence of literature by people of African-American descent. Hurston worked as a writer of fiction and of anthropological research and this mini-thesis will discuss aspects of her novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, first published in 1937. While the novel traces the psychological development of the central female character, Janie Mae Crawford and, thus, demonstrates several features of a conventional Bildungsroman, the novel also contains some intriguing innovations in respect of narration and voice. These innovations imply that the novel can be read in terms of the qualities commonly associated with the Modernist novel. This contention becomes significant when it is understood that a considerable degree of critical responses to the novel have discounted these connections. The novel is widely accepted to be a story about a woman’s journey to self-actualisation through the relationships she has with the men in her life. Much of the criticism related to the novel is based on this aspect of it, with many stating that Janie’s voice is often silenced by the third-person narrator at crucial moments in the text and that, as a consequence, she does not achieve complete self-actualisation by the end of the novel. This thesis will examine the significance of the shifts between first-person and thirdperson narration and the manifestations of other voices or means of articulation, which give the novel a multi-vocal quality. The importance of this innovation will also be considered, particularly when it is taken into account that Hurston sought to incorporate some elements associated with the oral tradition into her work as a writer of fiction.