Zora Neale Hurston was a woman before her time, and when she passed away in 1960, her works had largely gone unnoticed. She died in relative obscurity. However, author Alice Walker saw the important voice that Hurston’s writing gave to the African American community and revived Hurston’s writings, where at last, they finally received the attention they deserve. Their Eyes Were Watching God is Hurston’s best-known work, a novel that centers around Janie, a poor black girl raised in Florida by her grandmother, who is always searching for something more. Her struggle with who she wants to be versus who others expect her to be is a central conflict throughout the novel. In addition to Janie’s journey to self-realization, the novel examines other important themes, including defining gender roles, the difference between love and marriage, silence, and the tension created by a social hierarchy within the African American community itself.
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The Harlem Renaissance was an important African American flowering of art, literature, and music in Harlem, New York from 1919 to the mid 1930s. This intellectual and artistic movement gave a new sense of cultural identity to African American writers and thinkers. It also served to lay the foundation for the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. It included several important writers, including Langston Hughes, Jessie Redmon Fauset, Alain Locke, Jean Toomer, Rudolf Fisher, Nella Larsen, and Zora Neale Hurston. Important characteristics of Harlem Renaissance literature include:
If students get stuck, it helps to sound it out. There are also audio readings on the internet of the novel - some students may also find it more helpful to listen along with the reading.
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