Sunday, February 22, 2009

White Power

Zora Neale Hurston lived in a world where for the most part, whites dominated blacks and had much more societal power. This influence shows through in Their Eyes Were Watching God. OK, this post is about a theme, not author background, so I'll get on with it.

At least through chapter 10, white people are something of an unseen force in the novel. Nevertheless, the dominance of whites over blacks is an ubiquitous theme. On the first page of the novel, Hurston reeferences the "bossman", a presumably white power figure who controls the residents of Eatonville during the day. Eatonville itself was a novelty as the first all-black town in the U.S. This fact underscores the difficulty that blacks had in Hurston's time.
In the novel, not just being white but having white characteristics gives one power. Janie herself has white characteristics that give her something of an edge in the society of the time. Janie's mother was half white and was herself raped by a white man. Ironically, this disgusting display of white dominance instills some power in Janie. She is born with light skin and straight hair. Joe is attracted to her for this reason; he sees her as a way to display his own power because she has white traits. Because of these traits, she becomes an influential citizen of Eatonville.
Racism is always present in this novel. The characters struggle to gain indpendence, but are always held back by the fact that they are black, not white. Racism is not a good aspect of any society, but white dominance certainly is an important theme in the novel and in the society of Hurson's day


  1. Exceptional observations Jamie. The fact that race relations is underlying aspect of the novel which enhances characterization and conflict in Hurston's story comes directly from the cultural setting. This would make a great paper topic for further analysis.

  2. I agree for the most part about your observations. It's true that Janie's white blood gives her an edge compared to the other blacks in Eatonville, but I don't believe that it is purely because of Janie's mixed heritage that she is unique from everyone else. On the contrary, I thought that Janie's will and aggressive nature is what sets her apart from the others, women especially. I feel like although Janie may have mixed blood, her true source of uniqueness is her mind, not her physicality. Her looks provide the unusual but necessary background in which her potential aspirations may be able to succeed.

  3. While race is definitely an issue within the novel and some racial are present, I don't believe that it is a major aspect of it. I don't think that Hurston's intention in writing it was to elicit symphathy for the impoverished blacks. She just wanted an accurate story about being black. The story has some references to race and race plays a role in some if it, but it is not a major plot driver.

  4. I agree with Tien's comment. I don't think that her mixed blood really has any affect on her except that her hair is straight which catches the attention of other men. I believe it is her craving of freedom and her dynamic personality that really sets apart from the other women. This is shown when she starts dating Teacake. He is much younger than she is and her friends and acquaintances try to warn her that he is after her money, but she ignores everyone and does what makes her happy.