Voice and Language in Their Eyes Were Watching God
In one way or another, every person has felt repressed at some stage during their lives. Their Eyes Were Watching God is a story about one woman's quest to free herself from repression and explore her own identity; this is the story of Janie Crawford and her journey for self-knowledge and fulfillment. Janie transforms many times as she undergoes the process of self-discovery as she changes through her experiences with three completely different men. Her marriages serve as stepping-stones in her search for her true self, and she becomes independent and powerful by overcoming her fears and learning to speak in her own, unique voice. Zora Neale Hurston effectively shows Janie's transformation throughout the book by means of language and her development of Janie's voice through the different stages of her life. Her use of free indirect discourse exemplifies Janie's power in overcoming oppression, realizing her own potential, and emerging as an individual.
Throughout the novel, Hurston's intertwining of the black vernacular (in the
form of direct discourse in quoted text) and Standard English (in the form
of indirect discourse in third person unquoted text) creates a seamless,
fluid narration which provides insight into Janie's soul on two levels. This
combination of the two seemingly dichotomous aspects of language is called
free indirect discourse (also called "speakerly text") 1. Through free
indirect discourse, Hurston is able to effectively express Janie's inner and
outer voices (which become stronger throughout the novel) as she develops
through a series of relationships and acquires greater self-identity.
Before Janie's marriages, she lacks a sense of identity, which Hurston
reveals early in the novel. The scene where she is shown a photograph of
her and with "white family" symbolizes her lack of self-knowledge - she does
not even recognize herself in the picture, because she does not even know
she is black. Janie's first movement toward self-awareness occurs shortly
thereafter, when she becomes fascinated by the blooming of leaf buds under
the pear tree. Here, Hurston uses the third-person narrative in a speaker's
voice that invites the reader into Janie's soul. For example, the narrative
voice portraying the "pear tree" incident seems to have a nature somewhat
intimate to Janie's:
the rose of the world was breathing out smell. It followed her through all
her waking moments and caressed her in her sleep. It connected itself with
other vaguely felt matters that had struck her outside observation and
buried themselves in her consciousness. (24).
Hurston brilliantly combines an intimate voice with the omniscience of a
third-person narrator for a vivid denotation of the beginning of Janie's
maturity and the initial stage in her...