The Choice of Voice in “Their Eyes Were Watching God”

Their Eyes Were Watching God is a novel about what it means to be a human. And Hurston’s writing style and portrayal of the ‘voice’ allows the readers to see the story rather than hear/read it.


This novel is written in an African American dialect, which is sometimes hard to follow. The novel presents a number of themes to the reader like love, hate, human nature, culture, race, traditions, politics and Janie’s (main character’s) journey to achieve a voice.  Janie’s attempt to achieve a voice in Their Eyes Were Watching God allows her to assert herself as an African American woman in society, provide evidence of her feminine growth, and symbolize a new-found self awareness.

Hurston as a writer is concerned with the personal growth that comes from giving voice to one’s ideas and emotions. Throughout the novel Hurston symbolically represents Janie’s acquisition of voice and self. By the end of the novel, we can see that Janie has completed her journey and search for her voice, thus reaching full womanhood. Janie may still be restricted and silenced in some ways at the end of the novel; however, to a large degree, she is free to speak her mind. Hurston portrays dehumanization and silence that African American women faced in the society. It is almost like Hurston uses Janie in the novel as a symbol of overcoming these hardships.

When reading the novel, I could depict two distinctive voices in Their Eyes Were Watching God after some analysis of Zora Neale Hurston’s writing style. One of these voices is the narrator’s, which is lyrical, philosophical and deeper. This is an example, “Janie saw her life like a great tree in leaf with the things done and undone. Dawn and doom was in the branches” (Ch. 2). The other voice, which is shared by the characters in the novel – is informal, but more real. This is an example, “Ah know exactly what I got to tell yuh, but it’s hard to know where to start at” (Ch.2).

The narrator’s voice identifies an elegant simile, letting the readers know that Janie sees her life as a tree. When Janie herself begins talking to the reader directly, Hurston switches her style abruptly, capturing the sounds of Janie’s speech as it would be heard in real life. The author chooses this kind of a style for a purpose. Despite the differences, the narrator is describing Janie’s thoughts, while Janie herself is giving us her words. However, it is important to remember that both of these “voices” belong to Janie. Hurston is writing to illustrate the lives of African Americans in this book. By staying true to their speech, she is representing their unique character. She refuses to change it for a more formal-minded audience. Her main message and explanation for her choice of writing is – despite what someone might think about people with heavy accents or people who speak informally – their thinking can still be elegant.

In terms of both the form of the novel and its thematic content, Hurston places great emphasis on the control of language as the source of identity and empowerment. Her story proves that one’s “voice” is more than speech. It is one’s state of mind and a positive sense of the self.



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