Zora Neale Hurston was a remarkable woman and writer of the early 20th century. Her works were thought provoking and radical for a woman of color in the early 20th century. Her works evoked a sense of control for women of color. Hurston’s work did not go without ridicule; some of the ridicule came from her fellow African-American counterparts, such as Alain Locke and Richard Wright. These two ridiculed the novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and her place in the literary canon. Over the course of the years, many professionals have argued the need to include Hurston and her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. However, many people have argued what part of the canon she belongs in and what novel can teach students. Genevieve West, Gay Wilentz, Carla Cappetti, and John Lowe argue their cases of why Hurston is relevant to teaching students in Approaches to Teaching Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God and Other Works. One also has a theory as to why the novel should be taught.
Genevieve West argued the importance of teaching Hurston in the classroom in her essay, “Teaching Their Eyes Were Watching God and the Process of Canon Formation.” She discussed the manner in which she approached Hurston’s work and she allowed the students to read reviews of Hurston’s other works, such as Jonah’s Gourd Vine and Mules and Men. The students discovered various aspects of Hurston’s work. They discovered “Hurston’s work is opportunistic ” (22) and the students went on to further discover Hurston’s work “exploiting black culture for white readers”(23). Once the students have discovered what others have stated about the author, West issued the chance to read reviews of Their Eyes, in which they discovered positive and negative reviews of the novel. They discovered Locke’s and Wright’s disdain for the novel. Richard Wright stated “the novel carries no theme, no message, no purpose” (“Between Laughter”17) while Locke asserted the characters are “pseudo-primitives” in “Jingo” (18). After the students read all of the reviews, they began to create their own reviews of Their Eyes. Many of the students agreed that the novel should be a part of the canon, due to the intrinsic value it places on the plight of a Black woman in the South. West argued the inclusion of the novel being a part of the canon, in which she stated:
Black Arts movement, feminism, and changes in American education converged to make Their Eyes a timely text for readers interested in black folk culture and oral traditions and a meaningful text for women, particularly black women, trying to find their own voices and trying to balance the demands of relationships with men with their own desires and needs (25).
West concluded her essay with the confirmation of why it is important to take the students through the literary history of Hurston’s in order for them to understand Hurston’s importance to the canon. One must agree with West’s actions in her classroom because it allowed the students to understand...