Their Eyes Were Watching God
Foreward by Mary Helen Washington (pages vii-xiv)
1. What do you learn here about ZNH including when she lived and died plus
her claim to fame?
2. When was TEWWG written and published?
3. Why were writers/critics such as Richard Wright so condemning of the
novel? (page viii)
4. What caused a revival of interest in ZNH and TEWWG in the 1970s?
1. How are men and women different with regard to their dreams and lives,
according to the first two paragraphs?
2. What does the reader learn about Janie in paragraph three that none of
the other characters in chapter one knows about her? Define the literary
term dramatic irony and explain whether this secret information we learn
about Janie exemplifies dramatic irony or not.
3. What type of incident could have caused Janie to bury people as
mentioned in paragraph three? Why do you suppose that ZNH keeps that and
other particulars about Janie from us?
4. Except for Pheoby, how do the women on the porch regard Janie? Why are
they so negative about her? What inferences do they make about her? Upon
what are these inferences based?
5. Do the men on the porch regard Janie as the women do or differently?
6. How does Pheoby react to the other women's criticism of Janie? Why does
Pheoby visit Janie? What does Pheoby want to learn from Janie?
7. How did Janie obtain her money she left town with? Who is Tea Cake, and
what is his relationship to Janie? How much older or younger is he than
Janie? What is your reaction to their age difference? Why?
8. What is Janie's reaction to the gossip from the women on the porch?
9. . According to Janie, what gossip about her from the women on the porch
is untrue? Is Janie poor? What is the truth about Janie's life, as far as
she reveals it in this chapter?
10. What evidence is there in the first chapter that the novel is set in
Florida in the late 1930s, focusing on African-Americans, with a woman as
its main character, a woman trying to discover her voice and true identity?
11. What is a frame story? Is TEWWG a frame story? Explain.
12. What is the novel's point of view: first person, third person limited,
omniscient, objective, or something else? Explain.
13. Who is the novel's narrator? What do you know about the narraor?
Describe the voice and diction of the narrator and how it is different from
the language of the novel's characters.
14. What is your reaction to the novel's use of black dialect? Explain. Do
you find the dialect difficult to read? Explain. Do you consider the
dialect demeaning to African-Americans? Why? How does ZNH justify her use
of black dialect?
15. What is Janie's motivation to tell Pheoby her life's story, which
begins in the second chapter? (see bottom of page 6) What seems to be
Pheoby's main function in the novel?
16. What unanswered questions-implied, not stated-are motivation for the
reader to continue? Do these questions "hook" your interest? Why? Do you
think you already know the answers to these "questions"? Explain.
1. At the beginning of the chapter, the narrator says, "Janie saw her life
like a great tree in leaf . . . ." How was Janie's life "like a great tree
in leaf"? Explain.
2. What discovery about herself did Janie make when she was about six? What
was her reaction to this discovery?
3. Why was Janie raised by her grandmother, Nanny, instead of by her
parents? How would you describe Janie's childhood with Nanny? Explain.
4. Why kind of life had Nanny had as a young woman? Who had fathered
Nanny's child, "Leafy," who would grow up to become Janie's mother? What
ever became of Janie's father?
5. Why had Nanny taken her baby and escaped from the plantation? What would
have happened to her and her baby if they hadn't got away? Why?
6. What incident involving Janie causes Nanny to decide that she will have
Janie marry Logan Killicks? Why does Nanny believe Killicks will be a good
husband for Janie? What is Janie's feeling about the idea of marrying
Killicks? Why? Do you believe Janie should marry Killicks? Why or why not?
7. Nanny says to Janie, "Ah wanted to preach a great sermon about colored
women sittin' on high, but they wasn't no pulpit for me" (15). What plans
had Nanny had for Janie's mother, and how did her plans relate to the
quotation? What happened to Janie's mother at age 17? What became of
Janie's mother afterwards? What does Janie have to do with Nanny's quotation?
8. Who was Janie's father? What has become of him?
9. At the end of the chapter, Nanny says, "Put me down easy, Janie, Ah'm a
cracked plate." Explain what Nanny means by that statement. How is she like
a "cracked plate"? Do you agree? Why?
1. At the beginning of the chapter, Janie asks, "Did marriage end the
cosmic loneliness of the unmated? Did marriage compel love like the sun the
day?" What answers to those questions does she find as the wife of Logan
2. Is Nannny sympathetic or unsympathetic about Janie's feelings about her
marriage so far with Logan Killicks? Why? With whom do you agree more-Janie
or Nanny? Explain.
3. Nannny says to Janie, "Lawd have mussy? Dat's the very prong all us
black women gits hung on. Dis love!" (22). What is Nanny talking about? Do
you agree or disagree with her? Why? What dream of Janie's is "dead" as a
result of her marriage to Logan Killicks? (See 24).
1. How had Logan Killlicks begun to treat janie differently from when they
were just married? Explain.
2. Why is Logan planning to buy two mules? What does he intend Janie to do
with regard to the mules? What is her reation to Logan's plans?
4. How does Janie meet Joe Starks? Describe how he looks and acts.
5. As asoon as we learn Joe Starks's name, explain how we already know that
Janie will marry him, move to Eatonville, their marriage will end, she will
leave Eatonville with another man for south Florida, and later return home
to Eatonville without the other man. Even though we already know these
facts, what about them do we not know yet? Explain.
6. To Janie, Joe Starks "did not represent sun-up and pollen and blooming
trees, but he spoke for far horizon. He spoke for change and chance" (28).
What does this quotation mean, literally, in your own words? Explain.
7. What justification does Logan give for being a good husband to Janie? Do
you agree with him? Explain.
8. What justification does Janie give herself for leaving Logan to run off
with Joe Starks? Do you agree with her decision? Explain.
9. Who is most to blame for the failure of Janie and Logan's
marriage-Janie, Logan, or Joe Starks? Explain.
10. Do you believe that Joe Starks was right or wrong in courting Janie, a
married woman, and offering her an opportunity to run away from her husband
to live to marry and live with him instead? Explain.
11. Do you feel sorry for Logan Killicks after Janie leaves him? Why?
Explain what you think Logan will do next and tell why.
12. "From now on until death she [Janie] was giong to have flower dust and
springtime sprinkled over everything. A bee for her bloom" (31). Explain in
your own words what this quotation means.
13. What is your reaction to Janie's marrying Joe Starks when she is still
married to Logan Killicks? What is polygamy? Could Logan have had her
arrested for polygamy? What could have been Janie's punishment, if found
guilty? Do you think it's likely that he will? Why? Do you think Logan will
try to take revenge on Joe Starks for stealing Janie from him? Why?
Explain. What do we already know that might influence our opinions about
1. Where do newlyweds Joe and Janie go to live? How does this town figure
in the life of ZNH? Why has Joe chosen this town as a place to live?
2. What is Joe and Janie's first impression of Eatonville? Why?
3. Who are Amos Hicks and Lee Coker? What information about Eatonville do
Joe and Janie learn from them? What incorrect inference about Janie does
4. Why is the idea of Joe Starks' buying land from Captain Eaton so funny
to the gathered men? (35).
5. How do the men of Eatonville regard Janie? What does Hicks attempt to do
with Janie? What is the result? What does Coker mean when he says to Hicks,
"You can't get her wid no fish sandwich" (37)?
6. What is Hick's reaction to the idea of Starks's putting up a store with
a post office in it? Why? Explain.
7. What is Joe Stark's favorite expression? What do you think it means?
8. What is Joe Starks's motive in building a general store and post office
other than to sell store goods?
9. What honor do the citizens of Eatonville give Joe Starks?
10. Why does Joe not want Janie to give a speech? (40-41).
11. What does Joe order for the town from Sears, Roebuck, and Company? How
does the town react to this gift? Explain.
12. Joe ask Janie, "Well, honey, how yuh lak bein' Mrs. Mayor?" (43). In
your own words, how does she respond? What is your reaction to Janie's
13. "There was something about Joe Starks that cowed the town" (44). In
your own words, explain what the narrator means by this statement.
14. What was the town's reaction to Joe's getting Janie a lady-sized
spittoon with little sprigs of flowers painted all around its sides? Explain.
15. What did Joe do when he caught Henry Pitts with a wagon load of Joe's
sugar cane? What were the townspeople's reactions to what Joe did? What is
your reaction? Why?
16. What's the town's reaction to how Joe treats Janie, especially
regarding how she must dress and behave in the store and how he treats her
in front of other people there? Explain. What is your reaction? Why?
1. What does the narrator mean by saying people sat on the porch of the
store and "passed around the pictures of their thoughts"? (48). Explain.
2. According to Sam, what have the "womenfolks" been using Matt Bonner's
yellow mule for? (49).
3. According to Lige, what saved the Roberts' "chillun" from being
"trompled . . . to death by Matt Bonner's yellow mule? (50).
4. Why doesn't Joe want Janie to participate in "mule talk" with those that
hang out on the porch of the store? (50-51).
5. Why has Janie "come to hate the inside of that store"? (51). Explain.
6. What had Joe caught Walter doing to Janie's hair one night in the store?
What is Joe's reaction? Why? What is your reaction? Why? What is Janie's
reaction to Joe's demands? Are your more sympathetic here to Janie or to
7. Why does Joe buy Matt Bonner's yellow mule? What is Matt's reaction
after the sale? What does Joe use the mule for? What is Janie's reaction to
Joe's buying the mule and his plans for it? According to Janie, what does
Joe (Jody) have in common with Abraham Lincoln? (53-55).
8. When the mule dies, how do the people of the town dispose of its body?
What is your reaction?
9. Why doesn't Joe allow Janie to attend the mule's funeral? What is ironic
or funny about the elaborate funeral Joe and the others give to honor the
dead mule? Who are the Parson and his followers who have a separate funeral
for the mule after Joe and the other townspeople leave? What is your
reaction to this scene? (56-58). What do you think is ZNH's reason for
including this entire mule story (48-58) in her novel? Is it important to
the plot? Explain.
10. "Everybody can't be like you, Jody. Somebody is bound tuh want tuh
laugh and play" (59). Explain what Janie it talking about, how she and Joe
disagree, and whether she bends to his will on this issue or not.
11. Sam and Lige love to play "the Dozens," that age-old black ritual of
graceful insult. Who, in your opinion, wins their argument, "What is it dat
keeps uh man from getting' burnt on uh red-hot stove-caution or nature?"
(60). Who is Big John de Conquer, and how does he fit into the discussion?
12. Describe the "playacting" that goes on among the men and women,
especially Jim, Dave, and Daisy (63-65). Does this kind of kidding around
go on today among you and your peers? Explain.
13. "The bed was no longer a daisy-field for her and Joe to play in" (67).
Explain this quotation and how it symbolizes Janie's changed perception of
Joe and their marriage.
14. What is your reaction to the scene involving Mrs. Tony Robbins?
(68-70). Do you find it funny, embarrassing, or insulting? Explain.
15. "It's so easy to make yo'self out God Almighty when you ain't got
nothin' tuh strain against but women and chickens" (71). What motivates
Janie to say this to Joe? What is his reaction? What is your reaction? Why?
1. How old is Janie at the start of Chapter 7, and what changes have
occurred in her outlook on life, her happiness in marriage, and her future
plans? How long has she now been married to Jody? (72).
2. Explain what the following passage means and what it is saying about
reading: "She didn't read books so she didn't know that she was the world
and the heavens boiled down to a drop. Man attempting to climb to painless
heights from his dung hill" (72).
3. What changes have occurred in Joe? How old is he now? (73-75).
4. "Takin' 'bout me lookin' old! When you pull down yo' britches, you look
lak de change of life (75). What has prompted Janie to say this to Joe?
What effect does this have on him? With whom are you more sympathetic
here-Janie or Joe? Why?
5. What changes in his life does Jody make, as described in Chapter 8,
pages 77-78? What is Janie's reaction to these changes? Why? (78-79).
6. How is death personified in Chapter 8? Explain. (79-80, 82).
7. In your own words, describe the final conversation between Janie and
Joe. What is her purpose in saying what she does? What is Joe's reaction?
What is your reaction? Why? (81-82).
8. "Years ago, she had told her girl self to wait for her in the looking
glass" (83). Explain what the narrator is saying about Janie. What does
Janie see in the mirror?
9. What change does Janie make in her appearance the day following Joe's
funeral (85)? What is your reaction? Why?
10. The words horizon/horizons are used three times in the lower half of
page 85 in Chapter 9. What special meaning does the word horizon have as
it's used here? What realization about herself and life does Janie discover
following Joe's death? (85-86). Why is Janie so critical of Nanny's view of
life and how she raised her?
11. Explain the meaning of this quotation: "Like all the other tumbling
mud-balls, Janie had tried to show her shine" (86).
12. Following Joe's death, how do the gentlemen suitors treat Janie? What
about her are they most interested in? (86-88). What was the one thing none
of them would mention to the "widow of Joseph Starks?" (88). Why? What does
Janie mean when she says, "To my thinkin' mourning oughtn't tuh last no
longer'n grief" (89)? What's the difference as she means it between
mourning and grief?
13. Describe Tea Cake. What is his actual name? How is he different from
other suitors? How does Janie respond to him? What is it about him that
attracts her? What is your initial reaction to Tea Cake? Why? (Ch.10,
90-95). What do we already know will happen with them? What do we not know
about their relationship?
1. What reservations does Janie have about her interest in Tea Cake? (96).
Who is Hezekiah (Kiah), and what opinion of Tea Cake does he express to
2. What is the age difference between Tea Cake and Janie? What concerns
does she have about it? What is Tea Cake's reaction to their age
difference? What is your reaction to their age difference? (100-101).
3. Tea Cake "could be a bee to a blossom-a pear tree blossom in the spring"
(101). Explain what these feelings of Janie toward Tea Cake mean. What
connection does this description have with the blooming pear tree Janie
reacted to at Nanny's as a teen?
4. After his pleasant evening visit with her, why does Tea Cake come back
to see Janie the following morning? What does this morning visit have to do
with what Janie had said to him the night before? (101).
5. What evidence (Ch. 11 on page 103) is there that Janie and Tea Cake have
become lovers? What is your reaction? Do you think Tea Cake is sincere or
only after her money? Do you think they'll get married? Why? (103-104).
6. What is the town's reaction to Janie's relationship with Tea Cake? Why?
7. Why does Janie decide to sell the store? Why doesn't she simply let Tea
Cake run it for her? (108).
8. What does Pheoby mean by saying, "Ah jus lak uh chicken. Chicken drink
water, but he don't pee-pee" (109)?
9. How is Janie dressed when she leaves Eatonville? How does this relate to
the beginning of the novel? Where does she go to meet Tea Cake? What mode
of transportation does she use? Right after she arrives, what does she and
Tea Cake do first? (109-111).
10. Briefly relate the story of Annie Tyler that Janie remembers (113-114).
What parallel does Janie see between Annie' Tyler's story and her own? What
evidence is there that this incident with Tea Cake will have an unhappy
ending? What evidence is there that it will have a happpy ending? Which do
you expect at this point? Why?
11. How had Tea Cake spent most of the $200 he had taken from Janie? What
does he have left to show for it? How much money did he return home with?
What is Janie's reaction to this episode? What additional information does
this episode reveal about Tea Cake? What is your overall opinion of him
now? Do you think he's a good husband for Janie to have or not? Why?
12. What happens when Tea Cake goes out gambling again? What injuries does
he sustain? Who does it? Why? Financially, did Tea Cake take a loss or make
a profit? Explain. What is Janie's reaction to this episode? Does this
latest episode change your opinion of Tea Cake? Explain. As Ch. 13 ends,
what plans does Tea Cake have for him and Janie? (120-122).What is your
reaction to these plans?
1. Describe some of the things Tea Cake and Janie do to earn money when
they first arrive in the Everglades. What are some other activities they do
together? What is Tea Cake waiting for in hopes of earning large amounts of
2. What new skill does Janie develop? (125). Chekov, the famous Russian
dramatist, once said that a gun hanging on the wall in the first act must
come down and be used during the final act. What is your reaction to
Janie's new skill? Do you see this information as an unimportant detail,
or, as Chekov, an ominous portent of something ugly to come? Why?
3. Describe the workers that poured in from all parts of the country (125).
Why were so many of them coming to this part of Florida?
4. Why does Tea Cake urge Janie to get a job picking beans? What is
Janie's reaction to his request? (126-127).
5. Describe in your own words what is going on in the story on pages
128-129 at the end of Chapter 14. What do you suppose is ZNH's purpose for
including this scene?
6. What did Tea Cake do with Nunkie that made Janie jealous? Whom do you
find at fault: Tea Cake, Nunkie, both, neither? Why? What did Janie do to
correct the problem? What is your reaction to this short chapter? Why?
7. Describe Mrs. Turner. Why is she so negative toward "Negroes"? What does
she see as some undesirable characteristics of blacks? Why is such a hatred
ironic, coming from her? Why is she attracted to Janie? (133-136).
8. What is Mrs. Turner's opinion of Booker T. Washington? Why? What is
Janie's reaction to Mrs. Turner's view? (136).
9. What would Mrs. Turner like see happen between her brother and Janie?
Why? What is Janie's reaction to such an idea? (136-137).
10. What is Tea Cake's opinion of Mrs. Turner? Why? What is Mrs. Turner's
opinion of Tea Cake? Why? (137-139).
11. For what reasons does Tea Cake whip Janie? What reaction does this
action cause to Tea Cake's friends and fellow workers? Why? (140-141) What
is your reaction? Why?
12. Describe the incident that occurs at Mrs. Turner's eating house
involving Tea Cake, Stew Beef, Sop-de-Bottom, Bootyny, Motor Boat,
Coodemay, Sterrett, and others. What seems to be the cause? What other,
underlying reason could have caused it? Do you find any of this episode
funny? Explain. (141-145).
1. Explain how the following react to sign that a hurricane is coming: (A)
a band of Seminoles, (B) various animals, (C) Lias, (D) the men who gather
at Tea Cake's house (146-150).
2. Explain the meaning of this quotation from Motor Boat: "Big Massa draw
him chair upstairs. . . Old Mass is doin' His work now. Us ougha keep
3. Besides suffering damage to buildings that could result from high winds
and rain as with any hurricane, in what additional danger are the people on
the muck as a result of this storm? Why? (150-151).
4. Why had Tea Cake, Janie, and the others with them not evacuated? (146-151).
5. Explain the meaning of the quotation at the bottom of page 151 that
contains the title of the novel. Why do you suppose ZNH chose this title
for her novel? Do you fee it's a good title? Why? (If not, what would be
6. What startling discovery do Tea Cake and Janie make about the lake? Why
do Tea Cake and Janie decide to leave, finally? Why does Motor Boat decide
to stay? Were there any other options? What would you have done in their
situation? Why? (152-155).
7. Explain how Tea Cake saves Janie's life. What injury does Tea Cake
suffer as a result? (156-157). What could be some possible complications
from such an injury?
8. What's Janie's reaction to Tea Cake's actions in saving her life? (158)
9. How does what we know about Tea Cake up to this point in the story
contradict the gossip on the porch about him from Chapter One? What is your
opinion of Tea Cake up to this point in the story? Why?
10. What unanswered questions from Chapter One have now been answered? What
unanswered questions from Chapter One remain? What is your guess to these
unanswered questions? Explain.
11. ZNH has planted some subtle foreshadowing in this chapter-as well as
earlier--as to how the novel will end, especially with regard to Tea Cake
and Janie. Although you won't know for sure until you read the final two
chapters, what do you suppose those foreshadowing clues might be? What
ending do you think they suggest? Why? If you aren't sure, tell whether you
believe the story will happily or tragically, and why.
1. Describe the situation facing Tea Cake and Janie in Palm Beach at the
beginning of Chapter 19.
2. What unwanted job does Tea Cake get "hired" to do? What would likely
have happened to him if he had refused to take the job? (161-162).
3. Explain how the title of the novel is again suggested-although not
stated explicitly-in the middle of page 162.
4. How are the burial arrangements different for whites and blacks? What is
Tea Cake's reaction? What is your reaction? (163).
5. When Tea Cake and Janie get back to the muck, whom among their friends
do they learn did not survive the storm? What has happened to Motor Boat?
6. What happens to Tea Cake the fourth week back from the hurricane? What
does he guess is the cause? What does Janie do for him? What does Dr.
Simmons report to Janie about Tea Cake's condition? (165-169).
7. What is Janie's reaction to Tea Cake's condition? What danger is Janie
in as a result of Tea Cake's condition? Why? (169).
8. What is Tea Cake's only chance for survival? What does Janie do to try
to save him? (169-173).
9. What does Tea Cake accuse Janie of? Why? How have his behavior and
reasoning been affected by his illness? What frightening object does Janie
discover under Tea Cake's pillow? What additional danger does that put her
10. What is the climax on the novel (page 175)? What is Janie's reaction?
What is your reaction? Did Janie have any other options under the
circumstances? Explain. What is your reaction to this violent scene?
11. Some critics have said the trial scene that follows is unnecessary, one
of the weakest parts of the novel? Do you agree? Why? Why do some of the
people Janie and Tea Cake had known testify against her at the trial? What
is Janie's reaction? What is your reaction? Was the outcome of the trial
ever in doubt? Why?
12. Describe Tea Cake's funeral in your own words. How does it compare with
Joe Stark's funeral? Explain how Janie and Tea Cake's friends who had
testified against her are able to make up and forgive one another (180). Is
this making up believable? Explain.
13. Why does Janie return to Eatonville? How does Pheoby say she has
changed as a result of listening to Janie's story? ZNH uses the word
horizon twice more (182, 184); how does the word relate to the story's
theme? Explain. How would you describe Janie's outlook on life a the end
of the novel? Explain. What do you believe the future holds for her? Why?
Afterward: "Zora Neale Hurston: 'A Negro Way of Saying'" by Henry Louis
Gates, Jr. (pages 185-195).
1. What other types of writing (include titles) did ZNH produce besides
2. When was ZNH the "dominant black woman writer in the United States"?
3. Who are some contemporary black women's writers ZNH paved the way for?
4. With regard to point of view, explain "free indirect discourse";
identify and briefly explain an example of it in TEWWG.
5. What is Tea Cake able to do for Janie that her first two husbands couldn't?
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