Unit 4:Their Eyes Were Watching God Their Eyes Were Watching God

Unit Connection College and Career Ready Descriptions:


Students will

  • demonstrate independence.
  • value evidence.
  • build strong content knowledge.
  •  respond to the varying demands of audience, task, and discipline.
  • critique as well as comprehend.
  •  use technology and digital media strategically and capably.
  • develop an understanding of other perspectives and cultures.

Reading Literature
Key Ideas and Details
2. Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text
Craft and Structure
6.Analyze a case in which grasping point of view requires distinguishing what is
directly stated in a text from what is really meant (e.g., satire, sarcasm, irony, or understatement).
Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity
10.By the end of grade 12, read and comprehend literature, including stories,
dramas, and poems, at the high end of the grades 11–CCR text complexity band independently and proficiently.
Informational Text
5. Analyze and evaluate the effectiveness of the structure an author uses in his other exposition or argument, including whether the structure makes points clear,convincing, and engaging.

7. Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in to address a question or solve a problem.

W11-12Text Types and Writing
1. Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of
substantive topics or texts,using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
a. Introduce precise, knowledgeable claim(s),
establish the significance of the text
c. Use words, phrases, and clauses as well as varied syntax to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion,and clarify the relationships between claim(s) and reasons,between reasons and evidence, and between claim(s)and counterclaims.d. Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.e. Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the argument presented.
6. Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, [[#|publish]], and update individual or shared writing products in response to ongoing feedback, including new arguments or information.

Speaking and Listening SL11-12Comprehension and Collaboration 1.Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one on- one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on texts, and issues,persuasively.a. Come to discussions prepared, having read and researched material understudy; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence from texts and other research on the topic or issue to stimulate a thoughtful, well reasoned exchange of ideas.b. Work with peers to promote civil, democratic discussions and decision making, set clear goals and deadlines, and establish individual roles as needed.c. Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that probe reasoning and evidence; ensure a hearing for a full range of positions on a topic or issue;clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions; and promote divergent and creative perspectives.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas
4. Present information, findings, and supporting evidence, conveying a clear and distinct perspective, such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning,alternative or opposing perspectives are addressed, and the organization,development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and a range or formal and informal tasks.

5. Make strategic use of digital media (e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual, and interactive elements) in presentations to enhance understanding of findings,reasoning, and evidence and to add interest.

Language L11-12 Knowledge of Language 

3. Use knowledge of language and its conventions when writing, speaking, reading, or listening.
a. Use verbs in the active and passive voice and in the conditional and subjunctive mood to achieve particular effects (e.g., emphasizing the actor or the action; expressing uncertainty or describing a state contrary to fact).
6. Acquire and use accurately general academic and domain-specific words and phrases, sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.
Technology HS.TT.1.3 Use appropriate technology tools to design products and information with others.

Enduring Question: How does history synthesize with literature to teach global issues?

Enduring Concept: The impact of the Harlem Renaissance on literature. The concept of personal journey, style of language/diction, and the impact of setting in literature.

Big Idea:The journey of an African American female during a period of historical and personal transition.

Notes: This unit integrates and synthesize the concept of the quest as introduced in early literature such as The Odyssey, The Illiad, Beowulf, etc., in addition to various genres.

Differentiation of product and process is offered through the activity chart. This process allows students positive social constructs and embraces multiple intelligences.

Timeline and Assessments:

  1. Journal assignment (Formative Assessment)




  5. Seminar (Formative Assessment)
  6. Essay (Summative Assessment)
  7. Discussion questions in class (Formative Assessment)


Day 1

Objectives: Students will be able to gain deeper understanding  the novel Their Eyes Were Watching God through music chair and small group discussion.

Key Ideas and Details
2. Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text
Craft and Structure
6.Analyze a case in which grasping point of view requires distinguishing what is
directly stated in a text from what is really meant (e.g., satire, sarcasm, irony, or understatement).

Differentiation: Students select passages from the novel based on their individual reading experience and understanding of the text. They are also given various options to respond to the novel depending on their personal level of challenges or strengths. Students can raise their own questions to probe into the implied meaning of the various themes of the novel. “Notice and focus” as well as ” five analytical moves” are introduced as methods to gather details as well as analyze them to draw a claim.

Grouping Rationale: Students will be grouped based on personal choice with consideration of individual learning needs, styles, talents and personality to maximize their productivity. In each group, all participants are contributors; each member takes turns to be a timer, recorder, facilitator and presenter.

Do Now: Based on idea that the novel is about “the journey of an African American female during a period of historical and personal transition”. Think of one example from the novel that reflect the theme.

Mini Lesson:

Claim and analysis:

Many African-American authors, both men and women, have therefore composed political stories; for example, storytelling in the form of slave narratives and socially conscious novels constitute a considerable portion of the canon of African American literature. The struggle for these authors has been to ensure that the public understands who African-Americans are and who they are not: essentially free and often suffering; not mammies and peolas. The problem with political art, though, is that it easily becomes didactic where it should be transcendent, argumentative where it should be exploratory. One solution to this problem is to produce art that is political, transcendent, and exploratory without resorting to didacticism and argument.

The novel Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) by Zora Neale Hurston develops a distinct ethos of storytelling that arises from conflict with the political and artistic situation she finds herself in. Hurston focuses on presenting African-Americans as she sees them – complex geniuses who are not bent down by the dominant white culture. She explores the complexity of being an African- American woman within a culture that does not value blackness or femininity. Moreover,she embrace artistic expression as the key to understanding these complexities; thus, he does not  always present solutions, but invite readers to meditate through the stories she create as suggested in the ending the novel.

Create a claim based on a pattern ( repetition, motif, binary, anomaly) you have noticed in the novel. Make an argument based on that and explain how you derived at the argument. Provide a example to exemplify it.

Music chair activity: Share your argument and analysis.

Independent Practice

Each group is assigned two questions to respond in writing. Be specific and use examples from the novel to illustrate your claims.

Post the response in google doc.

Use ” Five Analytical Moves” as rubric to evaluate your responses.

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What kind of God are the eyes of Hurston’s characters watching? What is the nature of that God and of their watching? Do any of them question God?
  2. What is the importance of the concept of horizon? How do Janie and each of her men widen her horizons? What is the significance of the novel’s final sentences in this regard?
  3. How does Janie’s journey–from West Florida, to Eatonville, to the Everglades–represent her, and the novel’s increasing immersion in black culture and traditions? What elements of individual action and communal life characterize that immersion?
  4. To what extent does Janie acquire her own voice and the ability to shape her own life? How are the two related? Does Janie’s telling her story to Pheoby in flashback undermine her ability to tell her story directly in her own voice?
  5.  What are the differences between the language of the men and that of Janie and the other women? How do the differences in language reflect the two groups’ approaches to life, power, relationships, and self-realization? How do the novel’s first two paragraphs point to these differences?
  6.  In what ways does Janie conform to or diverge from the assumptions that underlie the men’s attitudes toward women? How would you explain Hurston’s depiction of violence toward women? Does the novel substantiate Janie’s statement that “Sometimes God gits familiar with us womenfolks too and talks His inside business”?
  7. What is the importance in the novel of the “signifying'” and “playin’ de dozens” on the front porch of Joe’s store and elsewhere? What purpose do these stories, traded insults, exaggerations, and boasts have in the lives of these people? How does Janie counter them with her conjuring?
  8. Why is adherence to received tradition so important to nearly all the people in Janie’s world? How does the community deal with those who are “different”?
  9. After Joe Starks’s funeral, Janie realizes that “She had been getting ready for her great journey to the horizons in search of people; it was important to all the world that she should find them and they find her.” Why is this important “to all the world”? In what ways does Janie’s self-awareness depend on her increased awareness of others?
  10. How important is Hurston’s use of vernacular dialect to our understanding of Janie and the other characters and their way of life? What do speech patterns reveal about the quality of these lives and the nature of these communities? In what ways are “their tongues cocked and loaded, the only real weapon” of these people?

Homework: Read the following passage and find three examples that represent ideas of transcendentalism.

In Zora Neale Hurston’s book, Their Eyes were watching God, Janie, a young and inexperienced, 16 year old girl grew up to be an independent and wise women. In the novel a lot of themes get introduced such as love, transcendentalism, self-discovery and oppression. From all those themes the most important ones are transcendentalism, love and oppression because they show clearly how Janie evolve and how she found her horizon. Hurston states in her novel “She searched as much of the world as she could form the front gate and leaned over to gaze up and down the road. Looking, waiting, breathing short with impatience. Waiting for the world to begin”(pg. 11). It is a point in Janie’s life where she wants to experience new things, to find answers to her questions and to find her true love. Transcendentalism is an important theme in the novel. Everything that is going on the novel has to do with nature.

Day 2

 Thematic Questions:

  • In Their Eyes, Hurston employs unconventional strategies in form and narration. Hurston presents a story and a person to meditate about. To accomplish these meditative purposes, the events of Their Eyes are essentially secondary to the transformation of the main characters’ stories into complex works of art. The narration  uses self-consciousness and metafiction to call attention to the aesthetic quality of the story. The purpose of these stories, then, is to meditate on the social contradictions that are presented within them.
  • Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God suffered rejection and derision from many of her erstwhile colleagues in the Harlem Renaissance. Hurston’s responses were not conciliatory. In “How It Feels to Be Colored Me,” Hurston proclaims, “I am not tragically colored. . . .I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negrohood” (I Love, 153). Hurston connects “the sobbing school” – epitomized for her in works displaying the sufferings of African- Americans without any of their native artistic genius – as a concession to white publishers. She argues in “What White Publishers Won’t Print” that “for the national welfare, it is urgent to realize that the minorities do think, and think about something other than the race problem. . . .” In this latter essay, Hurston’s principal argument is that the ordinary African-American needs to be portrayed in literature: “For various reasons, the average, struggling, nonmorbid Negro is the best-kept secret in America” (7 Love, 171).
  • The critic Hazel V. Carby argues, however, that the focus on rural folk (and folklore) in Their Eyes is nostalgic and therefore nonrepresentative of the mainstream African American experience at the time of its writing. According to Carby, Their Eyes “displaces the migration of black people to the cities” (121), a trend explored extensively by the Harlem Renaissance. For Carby, Their Eyes is an attempt to recreate Hurston’s childhood – largely free from racism because she grew up in Eatonville, Florida, an all-black town – and use it as a synecdoche for authentic blackness. Carby questions if Their Eyes can be considered authentic because it was composed while Hurston was researching voodoo in the Caribbean and treats the Southern, rural community of Eatonville as an ideal other. Such a conception is usually paternalistic, and Carby concludes that Hurston speaks from a position of relative privilege. Hurston cannot, therefore, reconcile her place as intellectual – and therefore outside the community – with the community itself. It is notable, however, that Carby discusses the place that Hurston occupies as outsider to the community – and thus analogous to Janie – but does not mention the tension between the omniscient narrator and the folk dialect of the characters. Nearly all of the quotes that Carby analyzes come from the folk dialectic, and she does not address the distinction between the two modes of narration in the novel. Carby is right to point out that Hurston attempts to connect her status as intellectual observing the folk and her status as one of the folk, but she fails to recognize that Hurston’s answer to this contradiction is to embrace it. As Henry Louis Gates, Jr. writes in his afterword to Their Eyes, “It is this usage of a divided voice, a double voice unreconciled, that strikes me as her great achievement, a verbal analogue of her double experiences as a woman in a male-dominated world and as a black person in a nonblack world” (193). For Gates, Hurston “dwells in the silence that separates these two voices: she is both, and neither” (194). The only appropriate response to such a state of being is meditation, since privileging one over the other would be a detriment to both.
  • The novel’s narration enforces this meditation by using the omniscient narration to comment on people and events and by incorporating the folk dialect into the omniscient narration. Two scenes that show these techniques particularly well are the novel’s opening and Janie’s encounter with Mrs. Turner, a black woman with white features who hates black people. Though the folk dialect in Their Eyes has received the most critical attention, the novel begins in formal prose that, according, to Gates, is a reversal of Frederick Douglass’s canonical slave narrative (“Zora Neale Hurston,” 61). It is appropriate that textual commentary – a form of literary judgment – begins the narrative because the same formal voice is used to assess the motives of “Mouth-Almighty;” that is, the gossiping townspeople who see Janie return to her home after burying Tea Cake, her third husband. Their speech derives from the empowerment they achieve after the work day is over, when they cease to be “tongueless, earless, eyeless conveniences” and become “lords of sounds and lesser things” (1). But the narration points out that in using their newfound power to criticize Janie, they lose their individuality: “A mood came alive. Words walking without masters” (2). Their questions are then rendered without attribution in a single paragraph separated by em dashes (“Where’s dat blue satin dress she left here in? – Where all dat money her husband took and died and left her?” [2]). This commentary is even more pronounced in Janie’s conversations with Mrs. Turner. The omniscient narrator ends her description of Mrs. Turner by noting, “Her disfavorite subject was Negroes.” The narrator’s use of “Negroes,” a preferred term that is given the status of a proper noun, is a subtle commentary on Mrs. Turner, who complains in the next paragraph, “Ah don’t see how uh lady like Mis’ Woods can stand all them common niggers round her place all de time” (134). The juxtaposition of the respectable, “Negroes,” with the pejorative, “niggers,” is jarring and indicates to the reader what kind of woman Mrs. Turner is. The narrator does not have to state, “Mrs. Turner is a racist” or, “The Eatonville gossips lose their individuality” because one voice comments on the other.
  • The interaction between the two voices is not, however, restricted to one direction – the folk dialect permeates the omniscient narration. Janie briefly greets the gossiping Eatonville front porches: “Her speech was pleasant enough, but she kept walking straight on to her gate. The porch couldn’t talk for looking” (2, emphasis added). Similarly, Mrs. Turner’s dogged pursuit of Janie despite the latter’s gentle discouragement is explained as follows: “Anyone who looked more white folkish than herself was better than she was in her criteria. . . .Like the pecking-order in a chicken yard” (138, emphasis added). Both “straight on” and “more white folkish” imitate the speech patterns of the folk dialect reproduced by Hurston in Their Eyes. Also, “couldn’t talk for looking” and “the pecking-order in a chicken yard” are idioms of that dialect. This two-way interaction between the voices in Their Eyes removes the distance between them and demarcates it, eviscerates it, and acknowledges it. Because the two exist as part of a cohesive whole and interact in both directions, their contradictory and opposing positions are explored but not wholly explained. In short, the interaction invites the reader into considering these contradictory but (in a restricted sense) complementary modes of speech and being.
  • The form of The Bluest Eye is its most disorienting aspect and is the vehicle for Morrison’s meditation on issues of race, sex, and commercialism. In Their Eyes, the narrative style is Hurston’s primary method of meditating on the relationship between reader and text, oral and written language, individual and community; nevertheless, the form of Their Eyes is also disorienting and buttresses the essential meditative stance of the work. The story is more conventional than The Bluest Eye because Tea Cake’s death is mentioned at the beginning but not explained (“Yeah, Pheoby, Tea Cake is gone” [7]); this knowledge certainly compels further reading. Tea Cake’s death seems to form the climax of the novel, although the preceding actions do not clearly bund up the conflict that is resolved by Janie’s decision to kill him. That is, Their Eyes is unconventional because it does not develop a single conflict from beginning to end. Furthermore, to say that Janie is in conflict with the world or the dominant culture would be a gross oversimplification, because each of her obstacles form her rather than all of them, collectively.
  • The novel’s organization follows two models that operate simultaneously, but for different effects. The sequential organization (1) begins with Janie telling her story, (2) continues with her story, and (3) ends with Janie bringing the story to a close. The chronological organization (1) begins with Janie’s life with Nanny and her marriage to Logan KiIlicks, (2) continues with her marriage to Joe Starks and her residence in Eatonville, and (3) ends with Janie’s marriage to Tea Cake and her return to Eatonville to tell her story to Phoeby Similar to Morrison’s use of the seasons to organize The Bluest Eye, Hurston uses the three parts of the novel – whether it is considered sequentially or chronologically – to show Janie’s growth as a woman. In the sequential organization, Janie develops through the act of self-expression; her emergence into self-actualization is contingent on narrative. In the chronological organization, Janie develops through loving and leaving each of her husbands at the required moment; these acts thus allow the self-expression that leads to self-actualization. Thus, the focus of both Janie and the novel is on the present moment, not on a future, dominant conflict. This form is complemented by the narrative tension Hurston maintains and the novel’s meditative purpose. The interacting but opposing narrative voices in Their Eyes shift the reader’s focus from the “message” or “purpose” of the novel to the problems it raises. The form, similarly, shifts the focus from the events that happen to Janie to Janie herself, as a person who embodies a variety of racial and social contradictions. Janie cannot be reduced to an aphorism or a “social problem;” neither, then, can Their Eyes be reduced in this manner. Their Eyes cannot be reduced to anything less than deliberate thought – questions and meditations rather than answers and solutions.