Thursday, February 12, 2009

Theme: The Difference between Men and Women

Zora Neale Hurston kicks off her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God with two extremely profound and controversial statements. The first two paragraphs of Hurston's novel outline what Hurston believes to be the fundamental difference between men and women: their dreams.

Hurston begins by theorizing about the typical role of dreams within the lives of men. She states that for men, dreams are forever on the horizon. She describes the dreams of men as being on ships at sea, never out of sight, but forever out of reach, not unlike Gatsby and his green light. It is clear that Hurston believes dreams are out of the control of men. She discusses how sometimes the tide brings in mens' dreams from the sea. Other times, the sea refuses to send mens' dreams within reach, thus forever mocking them. To Hurston, men's dreams are dictated by fate, the sea. Their success depends on if the tide brings them in or not.

On the other hand, women know what they want and know how to get it. "women forget all those things they don't want to remember, and remember everything they don't want to forget... Then they act and do things accordingly." Hurston states that women are not subject to the doubts or idleness of men. They thoroughly believe in their dream, and they reach out to grasp it. Hurston immediately implies the proud and willful nature of females with this description.

Thus, Hurston outlines the difference between men and women. Men are the victims of fate, while women are the challengers of it.

Although this excerpt merely introduces the novel, I believe that this quote not only reflects Hurston's personal beliefs, but also foreshadows a major theme within the novel. I predict that There Eyes Were Watching God discusses the emergence of the indomitable female will through the journey of Janie. Hurston will discuss the existence of dreams within the female life and the empowerment of women to reach these dreams. The novel itself opens with the Heroine, Janie, returning to her Ordinary World with the elixir. Hurston's description of Janie elicits an image of the confident, defiant woman that woud chase their dreams. We have already met Janie in her perfected state, Hurston will develop the theme of female empowerment through the rest of the book; a sort of "you can be like this in only ___ months!" kind of deal. My guess is that part of Janie's elixir is the knowledge that Hurston reveals within the first two paragraphs of the novel.

*Note* Image selected by author is not meant to offend anyone. If anything it's a compliment.


  1. I took this in a different way: I thought that Hurston was saying that men have lofty, unrealistic dreams that they never let go while women have dreams grounded in reality that can be accomplished, but are not as grand. I'm not sure. Either way, it's a profound way to start the novel.

  2. I agree with Jaime as to Hurston's intent but I don't agree with her actual viewpoint that women's dreams are less grand than men's. But at that time period when women didn't share equal privileges in society with men, maybe it was all they could do to dream practically and keep themselves grounded.

  3. It sounds as though Tien has already found a controversial paper topic. Your focus on Hurston's opening paragraphs is warranted. This is the first thing we will discuss after the presentations so I am happy that it is already being addressed and picked apart. Effective connection to the major symbol of the green light in The Great Gatsby, well done.