|Teaching Their Eyes Were Watching God
Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God is the apex of African American Literature. It has been celebrated for over seventy years, is considered one of the best American novels of all time, and has been an inspiration to not only African American culture, but to women of all ages and races. Unfortunately, with the advances of modern day technology, changes in American culture, and the subjective history being taught in our schools, Hurston’s work may appear irrelevant or altogether incomprehensible to today’s youth. With the correct approach and a deeper analysis, it will become apparent that Their Eyes Were Watching God is swelling with themes and subject matter that in one way or another reflects the life of any young adult who is coerced into opening the book. Encouraging young adults to read is a challenge in its own, but challenging them to read classic literature from a time period that predates their grandparents seems nearly impossible. That is, unless you can clear a path by using the student’s current interests. It is safe to suggest that themes and subject content has repeated itself through the generations. The same archetypes have been recycled and modified for centuries. By using a combination of graphic novels, science fiction, music, and other forms of media appealing to students of this generation, a teacher can make a connection between a classic such as Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God and something as contrary as a comic book. The objective of this approach is to spark the interest of the students in classic literature, and nurture a growing interest in literature.
I will showcase two unique texts in forming the approach suggested above. First, using the novel, Year of the Black Rainbow, co-written by Claudio Sanchez and Peter David, will allow the teacher to use science fiction to draw a connection to Their Eyes Were Watching God. Claudio Sanchez is also the lead singer and guitarist for the rock outfit, Coheed and Cambria. In correspondence with Sanchez’ written novels and graphic novels, his band’s music provides a sound track and additional storyline for the written novels. Second, this same approach will be used with the graphic novel Persepolis. Persepolis is written and drawn by Marjane Satrapi, an Iranian woman who know lives and writes in France. Again, by using these types of literature, which are initially more attractive to the modern student, the teacher will be able to provide a connection and potential gateway to classic literature all the while helping the student gain a better appreciation for more important and celebrated literature.
Literary Value of Their Eyes Were Watching God
Hurston implemented several different uses of literary value into Their Eyes Were Watching God. Besides being a very important part of African American literature, the most obvious device is her unique use of dialect. Other than Paul Lawrence Dunbar, there has never been a better example of southern African American dialect in literature. Dunbar only applied it to his poetry, so that may be an option for preparing students for the dialect, which can be challenging at first glance. Her use of dialect creates an even more convincing portrayal of African American life in the southern United States in the early 1900’s.
Hurston also makes use of the narrative. The novel is the memoir of Janie Crawford, who at the beginning of the novel is returning to Eatonville after spending the past few years in southern Florida with her new husband, Tea Cake. She is under much criticism, but finds refuge in the form of her friend Pheoby. At this point she is in her forties and has been through a great deal. She tells her entire life story to Pheoby. At the end of her story, Janie is back in the present finishing her conversation with Pheoby.
There are subjects and themes on the consequences of abusing power and leadership. At one point in the novel, Hurston creates an atmosphere very similar to the one in Orwell’s Animal Farm. Janie’s second husband, Joe Starks, appoints himself the major of Eatonville, begins working on shaping the town into a functional entity, and all the while winning the support of the town’s population. While oblivious to the town’s people, Starks looks down on them for their lack of money and class. He makes a great profit for himself by exploiting the population into working like slaves for him while he gains the profit. With slavery still in sight from the rearview mirror and Jim Crow laws in place, the people of Eatonville have found themselves taken advantage of yet again. Starks, a black man himself, has been corrupted by power despite the constant oppression he has faced himself. Hurston makes the point that power and wealth can corrupt anyone at any level of society.
Their Eyes Were Watching God is a must have for any feminist’s bookshelf. There are powerful themes of feminism, love, marriage, and oppression in this novel. Janie is married three different times, each one very different and unique from the other. Like most women of this time period, Janie is constantly confronted with identity issues through the oppression of her first two marriages. It isn’t until much later on in life, and after the death of her second husband, that Janie finds love. Her third husband, Tea Cake, allows her to be the woman she wants to be. She is freed from the prison of her mind. At this point, Janie’s life is far from conventional, but she has never been happier.
One of the strongest themes of the story is Janie’s relationship with God. Through most of the novel, it is established that Janie hasn’t had much control of her own life. She has suffered crippling depression. Her treatment as an object has caused several identity issues. She always seems to be questioning good about her purpose in the world. Yet she still attends church every week and considers herself a God fearing woman. When she does find happiness with Tea Cake, she stops going to church. Janie appears to have lost part of her faith while gaining her new found happiness. She tragically loses the love of her life at the end of the book, and she seems to regain a relationship with her soul. The title of the book is enough to tell the reader that Janie was constantly looking for answers as to why these things had happened to her.
Summary of Their Eyes Were Watching God
The novel is the memoir of Janie Crawford. She has returned to Eatonville and tells the story of her life to her friend Pheoby. Janie’s life can be defined by the men she had been married to. She has been married three times. The first marriage was arranged by her grandmother whose intention was to provide Janie with a better life than the one she had. Janie’s grandmother raised her after Janie’s mother had succumbed to alcohol and ran away. Janie marries Logan Killicks. He is a farmer and much older than Janie who is only sixteen. It is a loveless marriage. Janie is not attracted to Logan at all, and he treats her like a piece of farm equipment.
Janie then meets Joe Starks, who is traveling south to Eatonville, a town comprised of an all black population. He is an ambitious man and promises Janie the world. She runs away with Joe and they are married. When they arrive in Eatonville, Joe exploits the population for his own gain. He also confines Janie to the store he owns, never letting her take part in any sort of recreation. They are married for several years. Janie questions life and its purposes while falling into a deep depression. Joe is a very controlling and jealous husband. Janie shows very little remorse after Joe dies. She experiences a sense of freedom.
Shortly after Joe’s death, Janie meets Tea Cake. He is much younger than Janie and not nearly as prestigious as Joe. She is criticized amongst the town’s people for spending time with Tea Cake so shortly after Joe’s death. Janie sells the store and moves with Tea Cake to Jacksonville, and then the Everglades. Janie is financially set since she has inherited all of Joe’s money. She has finally found a marriage that is full of love. Janie is living life for the first time in her life. There is a tragic turn in the plot when a hurricane destroys the village that Janie and Tea Cake live in. During the hurricane, Tea Cake saves Janie from drowning, but in the midst of the rescue, Tea Cake is bitten by a rabid dog. About a month later, Tea Cake goes mad and Janie is forced to kill him to avoid being killed herself. She is found innocent in court for his murder and heads back to Eatonville to continue her life and tell her story.
Summary of Year of the Black Rainbow
This is the first novel in a series of science fiction stories. The story takes place in a fictional solar system called Heaven’s Fence, which is comprised of 78 planets held together by an energy force known as the Keywork. The novel begins with the Mage Wars. Heaven’s Fence is controlled by twelve Mages, who are in charge of overlooking the well being of the solar system. Wilhelm Ryan, one of the Mages, has evil intentions and begins eliminating the other Mages. He is successful in his coup, and becomes the Supreme Tri-Mage and leader of the entire Fence. Coinciding with Ryan’s overthrow, a black rainbow appears across the entirety of the sky, visible to anyone who resides in the solar system. There are several different interpretations of the black rainbow. Many believe it is God’s way of showing his disapproval. Others believe it is a sign celebrating Ryan’s rise to power. Through Orwellian methods of manipulation, Ryan has been able to brainwash the masses that his rise to power is for the benefit of the people. Ryan’s reign of power has similar themes to those found in Orwell’s 1984. The Prise, powerful angel like characters considered to be the guardians of the Fence, were indecisive as to how to interpret the rainbow as well. Either way, it brought to question a phrase that was prominent in the mythology of Heaven’s Fence. “If Man should decide to dabble in my affairs, then guardians must intervene. But, should I come forth to change the face of Man with you there to challenge me, then I shall return with the stars to destroy all I have made. Whether Man or I present that danger will not be told in the coming” (Sanchez 11). This message was believed to have been said by God himself.
Leonard Hohenberger’s son had been killed while protesting the Mage Wars. He was killed by the Red Army, Wilhelm Ryan’s personal military. His son’s death had nearly destroyed his marriage. He was questioning life all together, when he was visited by one of the Prise. She commands him to biologically create three beings who will lead the rebellion against Ryan. Hohenberger, who is a scientist, creates the K.B.I. This stands for Knowledge, Beast, and Inferno. They are also known as Cambria, Coheed, and Jesse. They are equipped with special biologically enhanced weapons making them powerful enough to take on Ryan’s entire Red Army. They covertly destroy many of Ryan’s operations around the Heaven’s Fence.
Ryan finds out that Hohenberger is behind the KBI. He sends his 2nd in command, General Mayo Deftinwolf, to Hohenberger’s home. He kidnaps his wife and demands that Hohenberger help Ryan create a virus that would destroy the entire Keywork if implemented. He also is forced to turn over Coheed and Cambria, who have been injected with the virus, to Ryan. Ryan is unaware of Jesse’s presence. Hohenberger promises to cooperate, but he also comes up with a plan for an antidote, which he develops inside of a new biologically created human, Josephine.
Hohenberger’s wife is returned to him, but is so emotionally damaged that she commits suicide. Hohenberger is then killed trying to assassinate Mayo Deftinwolf. Jesse is now the leader of the rebellion. He leads a charge on the Favor House Atlantic, Ryan’s main base. He is successful in not only saving Coheed and Cambria but destroying the Favor House Atlantic. Jesse, who is also an exact clone of Hohenberger, uses his inherited knowledge to erase the minds of Coheed and Cambria and place them into society to raise the newly born Josephine as a family. The virus is still growing, but so is the antidote. The Black Rainbow disappears, and again it is interpreted in many different ways.
Summary of Persepolis
Persepolis is a graphic novel about the life of the author, Marjane Satrapi. Marjane is an Iranian girl growing up during the change of regimes in Iran. The novel follows her from a young girl to a young adult. As a young girl she witnesses the fall of the Shah and the rise of the Islamic Republic. Her views change as well. She goes from wishing to be a religious prophet to instead being a revolutionary. She becomes more and more aware of the atrocities being committed by the Iranian police. All the while, she has an extremely healthy relationship with her mother, father, and grandmother. They are very supportive and wish the best for her daughter. The family as a whole is rebellious to the way of life being pushed on the population by the government. When she is old enough, her parents decide that it would be best for her to leave the country.
Marjane is sent to Austria to study in a French boarding school. She begins to discover herself along with sex, drugs, social life, love, and racism. Marjane changes her appearance and her behavior to adapt, but she begins to grow ashamed of this and wishes for her parents to never learn of her life in Austria. She also switches her residence several times, including a communal with eight gay men, and an apartment owned by a crazy German lady.
Marjane falls in love with a boy named Marcus. She finds him cheating on her and is heartbroken, but soon realizes that their relationship was very one sided and unhealthy. She had also begun to sell drugs while dating him. She was heading down a very dark path in life. She decides it is time to go back home to Iran.
When she returns, she is welcomed by her family and friends. A lot has changed, except for the oppressive government. She is constantly hassled about her appearance, recreation, and new boyfriend, Reza. The prejudice against women has grown to a ridiculous state. Women had to be entirely clothed at all times. She goes back to the university to study and is accepted in to a special program for art. She decides to marry Reza so they can be seen in public. The marriage fails however. Her parents are not disappointed though, and her father even admits to believing it would fail. Marjane was too independent to be held down in a marriage. At the end, she leaves for France to continue her studies.
Year of the Black Rainbow and Persepolis as Complementary Novels to Their Eyes Were Watching God
There are three focuses that can be entertained amongst these literary selections. The first of these focuses would be the semantics of God. Although it is a touchy subject, it is something that has been present in literature since its beginning. There are many ideas of God in literature; there are many different meanings of God in this world. I even hesitate to capitalize the word God since it refers to a religious affiliation. To some people, the idea of God is completely separate from religion. If approached free of biased and opinion, this subject matter should not be difficult to engage. If presented correctly, it should help the students become more sensitive to other’s interpretations of God, and help them interpret the idea of God independently amongst themselves as opposed to the way it is engrained into the youth of today based on their environment.
First, let’s focus on God’s importance in all three novels. In Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie is searching for answers while dealing with depression. She goes to church each day because it is expected. When Joe dies, Janie doesn’t find a need to mourn. When she meets Tea Cake, she quits going to church. She has found love, but has abandoned the church. When the hurricane came, everyone in danger seems to question God’s reasoning behind this disaster:
“The wind came back with triple fury, and put out the light for the last time. They sat in company with the others in other shanties, their eyes straining against crude walls and their souls asking if He meant to measure their puny might against His. They seemed to be staring at dark, but their eyes were watching God”(Hurston 160).
Janie is forced to kill Tea Cake shortly after because he goes mad. She had finally found love, but now he was taken away from her. Janie’s whole life had been a back and forth between gain and loss, With these gains and losses, she would find and leave God as well. In the end Janie says “Two things everbody’s got tuh do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin’ fuh theyselves” (Hurston 192). She could have rejected God for all the tragedy she experienced, but she finds peace and appreciation for her life despite what she has been through.
Year of the Black Rainbow takes place in a fictional universe and portrays an unconventional God, but that God is still a significant part of the universe’s culture. Similar to Their Eyes Were Watching God, God never makes an appearance or says a line in Year of the Black Rainbow, but God is an important character to the story. After the Mage Wars have been won by Wilhelm Ryan, a mysterious black rainbow appears in the sky and remains there until the fall of Favor House Atlantic. Many people in the Fence’s population point to the rainbow as a sign from God. The Prise believe it’s a sign from God to intervene in Ryan’s affairs. Wilhelm Ryan and many of his followers reject the notion of God’s existence. Either way, as the days fly by, the people of the Fence focus their eyes to the sky to view the black rainbow. The argument of God as a creator or a controller is presented as well.
In Persepolis, Marjane makes a drastic change from religious to rebellious. As a young child, she wishes to grow up and become a prophet. As she ages and experiences the atrocities of the Islamic Republic, the murder of several “martyrs,” and the horrible treatment towards women, Marjane begins to shy away from the idea of God. Iran is an extremely religious country, and Marjane presents the consequences of this to the reader. She tries to speak to God a few more times through the book, but it is obvious that she has chosen to follow other ideas than that of a God.
The main class discussion would involve the many different semantics of God in literature. It would then be wise to discuss the benefits and disadvantages of worshipping God as portrayed by different authors and their works
The second focus of these literary works would be the treatment of women within a marriage, the idea of love versus possession, and idea of the strong independent woman. All three of the novels have strong female characters. Some deal with more oppression than others, but in the end of all three novels, woman are seen in a positive light. In Their Eyes Are Watching God, Janie is trapped in two different marriages before she finds independence and love in the third. Even though Janie and Tea Cake have their bouts with jealously, on a whole, they don’t oppress one another. Most importantly they give one another their independence and allow one another to grow. In a time where women had very little rights, Hurston is able to portray her main theme: women should seek a way of life in which they can truly live. Janie was able to find love without sacrificing her independence.
The strongest female character in Year of the Black Rainbow is Pearl Hohenberger, the wife of Dr. Hohenberger. Even though their son dies, and her pain pushes her away from her husband, they are able to find love with one another again. Sanchez takes the time to describe the development of the Hohenbergers’ relationship before their son died. The idea of love is made from the absence of jealousy, greed, and oppression. In fact, the reason the Hohenberger’s love was so strong is because they stayed out of each other’s way:
“We were the perfect match for so long. We complemented each other in every way. He was stern where I wanted to be permissive, and vice versa. You know the first step to being a successful, loving couple? Not getting in each other’s way. You’d be amazed how many people don’t understand that” (Sanchez 173).
They didn’t allow themselves to hinder one another’s ambitions. They were both very successful scientists. They both complemented one another in areas where the other came up short. They would do anything for one another, hence Dr. Hohenberger’s attempt to rescue her. Their love ends in tragedy, but not by any force that they can control. Coheed and Cambria’s relationship is also very strong. Even though they were biologically created, they are human. Their emotions are real. They live for one another, but they depend on each other to live everyday because they are constantly in battle.
All of the relationships that Marjane has in Persepolis fail to work. Every man that she gets involved with does not treat her the way she wishes. She is criticized, oppressed, and expected to play a role. Her father lets her get married even though he was convinced the marriage will fail. He allows her to marry because he believes she will learn a very good lesson from the divorce: don’t sacrifice your independence for a relationship. Women in Iran were already in an extremely oppressive state, so Marjane already had to fight for her independence every day without a man in her life. When Marjane was getting ready to leave for Austria, her grandmother gave her some advice that allowed her to become the person she wished to be: “Always keep your dignity and be true to yourself”(Satrapi 150). Whenever Marjane strayed from this advice she found herself becoming someone she hated. It was only when she was true to herself that she was able to find happiness.
The third focus of these works would be the corruption of power. As mentioned before, Their Eyes Were Watching God has an Animal Farm feel to it when Joe Starks comes to Eatonville. He extorts the population for his own profit while making them believe they are better off. This is by no means the main focus the novel, but it’s worth discussing if time permits.
This theme carries over to Year of the Black Rainbow. Wilhelm Ryan’s ability to conquer an entire universe in the name of evil and make the masses believe it is all in the name of the greater good is inconceivable. With many public demonstrations, celebrations in his own name, distractions to the population, and control of the media and local governments, Ryan is able to achieve whatever he wants while gaining the support of the people.
Persepolis is based on true events. All the accounts about the government, wars, and coups are true. It is an extremely oppressive state, and the people have very little rights and are controlled by fear. Yet, many of the characters in the novel support the corrupt government, and they criticize Marjane for rebelling against this way of life. Whether the setting is real or made up, past or present, the same themes of power and corruption seem to exist in all three novels.
Using Media Sources to Teach Their Eyes Were Watching God
Integrating music into the lesson plan would be a simple task since one of the books, Year of the Black Rainbow, is written by the lead singer and guitarist of Coheed and Cambria. They have five albums, all which chronicle the story of Heaven’s Fence. Many of the songs deal with not only the plot of the story, but the idea of God. Their 3rd studio album, Good Apollo, I'm Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through The Eyes Of Madness, actually reveals that God is the writer of the story, and He enters into the story as a character to kill a love interest he created for one of his characters in order to hasten the story’s end. This brings in another interpretation of God, and also questions the idea of God as a controller or creator. The song “Ten Speed” would be a good example to use.
“If written wrote me even chance
And the choice to save you
I wouldn't answer if it even had to ask
In her figure I've instilled a taste of my own
So listen up world, listen up world
To make it easier to take what life I'm owed
As the curse has returned from the hell of your
Heart and your soul
Nobody knows but you
Nobody knows but you
'Cause I don't want to ride tonight...
No I don't want to go
I don't want to ride tonight...
Or maybe I don't want to go
"But are you going to kill her off?"
"It's not your decision. I love the character, she stays."
"Yeah, well the only thing love's done is put you in this position; I say kill her off!"
"Yeah, but you say a lot of things... and how does that work? You're a bicycle"
Ten Speed, of God's Blood & Burial [x7]
Ten Speed, of God's Blood”
Another song worth referring to would be “22 Acacia Avenue” from Iron Maiden’s album The Number of the Beast. In Persepolis, one of Marjane’s favorite bands is Iron Maiden. At one point, her parents smuggle an Iron Maiden poster from Turkey back into Iran. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Marjane would listen to Iron Maiden. They sang about many social issues such as the genocide of the Native Americans, war, and prostitutes. This particular song deals with prostitution. There is a part of Persepolis where women who divorce their husbands are referred to as prostitutes. Another scene has Marjane watching a television show where the dialogue of the translation has been changed by the government to hide the fact that the main character is a geisha: a Japanese prostitute.
“If you're feeling down depressed and lonely
I know a place where we can go
22 Acacia Avenue
Meet a lady that I know
So if you're looking for a good time
And you're prepared to pay the price
Fifteen quid is all she asks for
Everybody's got their vice
Charlotte can't you get out
From all of this madness?
Can't you see
It only brings you sadness
When you entertain your men
Don't you know the risk of getting disease?
Beat her, mistreat her
Do anything that you please
Bite her, excite her
Make her get down on her knees
Abuse her, misuse her
She can take all that you've got
Caress her, molest her
She always does what you want
You're running away
Don't you know what you're doing?
Can't you see it'll lead you to ruin?
Charlotte you've taken your life
And you've thrown it away
You believe that because
What you're earning
Your life's good don't you know
That is hurting...
All the people that love you
Don't cast them aside”
The cinema can help enhance a lesson plan by presenting a visual representation to the students. Sometimes seeing is believing. For example, by showing scenes from A Time To Kill (based on the John Grisham book), students can see firsthand how unequal and racist a courtroom can be in the south. The movie has an all star class including Samuel L. Jackson, Matthew McConaughey, and Sandra Bullock, so it should be appealing to the students. Using the courtroom scenes from the movie will allow students to obtain a more convincing image of the courtroom scene from Their Eyes Were Watching God. The movie also displays its relevance because it involves the rape of a young black girl by white men. In Their Eyes Were Watching God, both Janie and her mother were the products of this type of rape.
Another movie that could be used when teaching Their Eyes Were Watching God is Little Children (based on the book written by Tom Perrotta). The movie deals with the decaying minds of several people trapped in loveless marriages. The main character, played by Kate Winslet, was an extremely intelligent student and a devout feminist, but now she is trapped in the mold of homemaker. She finds happiness with another man who is also trapped in a loveless marriage. The movie deals a lot of with self identity and the quest for independence.
Another option to consider is the movie versions of Their Eyes Were Watching God and Persepolis. Their Eyes Were Watching God stars Halle Berry and is fairly recent (2005). Persepolis was made into an animated film (2007). The film was fairly successful winning a few awards and being nominated for an Academy Award.
The internet has a wealth of information that can be used for opening the minds of students. Author Ayaan Hirsi Ali started the AHA Foundation in an attempt to fight the ongoing abuse against women in the name of Fundamentalist Islam. Her book Infidel is an excellent book to share with students, but her website, www.theahafoundation.org, provides constant updates on news and events dealing with these issues. This website could be shared in a discussion about Persepolis since it deals with the same subject matter. This is a great website to send students to if they truly want to get involved. Not only can they receive news on the matter, but they can make donations and learn how to get involved in the fight for women’s rights.
This next website would be wise to use when bringing the lesson plan on Their Eyes Were Watching God to a close. The African American Literature Book Club, or http://aalbc.com/, is the #1 site for finding African American Literature. If your students enjoyed Hurston’s work, then you can take them to this site to find a breadth of African American novels, authors, movies, etc. This website has information on famous authors such as Hurston, Maya Angelou, and Walter Dean Myers, along with new up and coming authors. This would also be a great site to send students when looking for an African American novel to tandem with Their Eyes Were Watching God for an assignment or project.
Using articles to connect real world activity to the text will give the students a greater sense of realism on the themes from Their Eyes Were Watching God. In an article written by Fiona Paisley in the Women's Studies International Forum from January of 2009, Paisley retrieves some interesting facts about feminist movements during WWII. The article focuses on the Pan Pacific Women's Association, which helped bring to attention the importance of African American women to the international feminist movements. The article was titled “From Nation of Islam to Goodwill Tourist: African-American women at Pan-Pacific and South East Asia women's conferences, 1937 and 1955.”
Another article of significance was written by Iris Berger titled “An African American 'Mother of the Nation': Madie Hall Xuma in South Africa, 1940-1963.” It appeared in the Journal of Southern African Studies in September of 2001. It detailed the work of Madie Hall Xuma. She worked to encourage racial and gender uplift among African women. She formed clubs, committees, and organizations that worked for African American advancement. This article reiterates the fact that women are still fighting for rights in several different cultures around the world.
Activities to Use When Teaching Their Eyes Were Watching God
There is a diversified amount of literary value in the three novels discussed so far, meaning there are many possibilities for the focus of class activities. As mentioned before, God is a very important character in all three novels, yet in Their Eyes Were Watching God and Year of the Black Rainbow, God never makes an appearance or speaks a line. After leading a class discussion on the influence of God and the semantics of God in literature, divide the students up into small groups. These groups will be in charge of selecting a scene from either novel and installing God into the scene as a concrete character. The group will work together to develop God’s role and implement dialogue. How does God’s actual presence change the scene? Does this scene change the outcome of the novel? Will God be portrayed as a hero, villain, creator, or controller? These are some questions to get the class started. This activity should help students realize the influence of God as a whole on literature, and the many different roles God has played throughout his existence in literature.
By focusing on Claudio Sanchez’s role as a musician, the teacher can create and activity revolved around the notion of creating a soundtrack for Their Eyes Were Watching God. As mentioned before, Sanchez’ band, Coheed and Cambria, has released five albums which expand the story from Sanchez’ novels. This activity can also reveal the literary value in song writing. Students will be assigned to groups in order to develop a soundtrack that effectively details the plot, themes, and conflicts in Their Eyes Were Watching God. The group will have to select at minimum ten songs, with each student contributing at least two songs of their choice. Students will be encouraged to bring in music from home, along with liner notes (or printed out lyrics), mp3 players, and headphones for each student to listen to one another’s songs. After the soundtrack is finalized, the group will have to give an explanation of why they chose each song, what theme or part of the novel it represents, and share the significant lyrics from the song. The goal of the activity is to augment the student’s appreciation of music’s literary value while further developing their understanding of the novel’s themes.
Assignments for Their Eyes Were Watching God
Their Eyes Were Watching God has very strong feminist themes and values. The articles detailed in this chapter were just a few of the many which focused on the ongoing fight against female oppression. Students should be assigned the task of researching articles on these feminist efforts dated 2005 or later. Then ask them to make the connection between their findings and Their Eyes Were Watching God. You can also encourage them to connect the articles to Persepolis as well, but the main focus should be on Hurston’s work. The novel is more than sixty years older than the articles they will be researching. Ask the student’s to pay attention to this fact when they note the similarities they find between the novel and the articles. Students should document the similarities they find, the efforts being made to forward the women’s rights movements of today, and how those movements would have been received in a setting similar to that in Their Eyes Were Watching God. They should also make one recommendation on how they would add to the fight against female oppression in the world. The goal of the activity is to promote awareness on a very important issue that many in this country seem to ignore.
This next assignment could be used as a group activity, but should probably be avoided since there could be conflicts of interest. Students should be assigned the task of writing a letter to God. Students will choose one of the three novels, and based on the way God is portrayed, they will write a letter addressing a topic of their choice. They are free to ask God questions, make suggestions, criticize God, praise God, etc. Also in a short paragraph separate from the letter, they should compare their idea of God to the one described in the novel they chose to use. This assignment should give students a better understanding of the many different ideologies, meanings, and portrayals of God in not only literature, but different cultures. Hopefully, this will make the student more sensitive to other’s beliefs, while opening up their own minds to make a more independent decision on how they perceive God.
As our world continues to change and develop each day, it creates more and more available tools to use when teaching. Even as we move further away from 1937 and the release of Their Eyes Were Watching God, the breadth of technology, the release of more literary works, and the changing of our culture creates newer and more interesting ways to teach this classic novel. Students shouldn’t view classic literature as irrelevant dusty books from the past. With the right approach, students can learn to appreciate the classics by using the advancements of today. All the suggestions above are merely a sample size of the possibilities teachers have at their hands. The goal of this chapter was to encourage teachers to abandon the redundant teaching methods of the past and take advantage of the changes in literature, media, and technology to encourage students to engage in the great works of the past, for it is those works that have created many facets of society enjoyed by the youth of today.
Sanchez, C., & David, P. (2003). Year of the Black Rainbow. Nashville, TN: Evil Ink Books.
Satrapi, M. (2003). Persepolis. New York, NY: Pantheon.
Paisley, F. (2009). From Nation of Islam to Goodwill Tourist: African-American women at Pan-Pacific and South East Asia women's conferences, 1937 and 1955. Women's Studies International Forum, 32(1), 21-28. doi:10.1016/j.wsif.2009.01.008.
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