Friday, February 13, 2009

Southern Drawl and Southern Lifestyle: The Importance of Setting in Their Eyes Were Watching God

Zora Neale Hurston describes Janie Starks enjoying an afternoon under the umbrage of a pear tree. She details the trees leaf-buds, their "snow-viriginity" (10), and the bees that buzz quietly around the tree's trunk. She creates vivid images with her words; it seems better than the real thing. However, Hurston could be describing a pear tree anywhere. It is her use of local dialect that enhances the setting and importance of location, not her grandiose descriptions.

Setting is aggrandized by the dialect of the characters used in the novel. They continually shorten words, pronounce and use words incorrectly, and exhibit a thick, Southern drawl. For example, "Maybe us don't know into things lak you do, but we all know how she went 'way from here and us sho seen her come back. 'Tain't no use in your tryin' to cloak no ole woman lak Janie Starks, Pheoby, friend or no friend" (3.) In this quote, Lulu Moss fails to use proper pronouns (us should be we,) and she condenses words- like that ain't to 'tain't. The structure of her language lets us know that she is, indeed, from the South. The dialect of these characters heightens the setting because it makes it appear authentic and less like a book, more like you are actually sitting on the porch gossiping with the group.

In addition, the location of the novel affects Janie as a person: The provincial town affects her in more ways than one can count. Growing up, discrimination and segregation were not as common in the north as in the south. She experiences these hardships during her childhood in Florida, and as a result feels "different" from the other white children she lives with. School girls like Mayella give her a hard time about living with whites and dressing like a white child. These different events affect Janie's personality, upbringing, and personal experiences, and ultimately reflect in her as an adult. Therefore, setting is extremely important to the novel.

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