What do you think the author means when she says, “Ships at a

Their Eyes Were Watching God
Zora Neale Hurston
Chapter One
1. What do you think the author means when
she says, “Ships at a distance have every
man’s wish on board”?
 It
is a metaphor for dreams and
the idiom “his ship will come in.”
◦ For some, their dreams will arrive the
way they want them to; for others,
they will never achieve their dream.
2. Who do you think the “Watcher”
is in the first paragraph?
“For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out
of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes
away in resignation…” (1)
 Depending
on the interpretation,
the “Watcher” is:
◦ God
◦ The dreamer himself/herself
3. What literary device is being used in
the phrase: “…mocked to death by
Time?” What does this phrase mean?
 Personification
◦ Meaning = There is often not enough
time for dreams to come true
◦ Life, like time, is fleeting
4. What literary device is being used in the phrase:
“The sun had gone, but had left his footprints in
the sky”? What do you think this means?
 Personification
◦ Meaning = The sun had gone down,
and in its stead left the stars
5. What literary device is being used in the sentence:
“Words walking without masters; walking
altogether like harmony in a song”? How could
you interpret its meaning?
 Personification
◦ Meaning = There were words being used
or thrown out that were indecipherable, or
whose speaker cannot be identified, but
they came out of several mouths at one
time, almost like singers in a chorus singing
the same phrase
6. Describe the mood at the beginning of chapter
one. How do the people’s reactions to the
woman contribute to the mood?
The mood is somber, unsettling, confused,
insecure, and suspicious.
◦ The people’s gossip helps contribute to the
speculation and suspicion. We feel as
uncomfortable as Janie feels returning
home, having everyone voice their
assumptions about what had happened to
7. What do we learn about Janie from this chapter?
Find 4 examples from the text that describe her
either physically or emotionally.
She has been gone awhile and is returning; she
left in a blue dress, and came back in overalls.
There is speculation that her lover took her
money and ran off with another woman; she
was much older than her lover.
◦ Examples vary. (Discuss)
Chapter Two
1. What “discovery” did Janie make about herself
when she was very young?
She became aware that she was black
◦ “Janie saw her life like a great tree in leaf with the
things suffered, things enjoyed, things done and
undone. Dawn and doom was in the branches.” (8)
 She doesn’t recognize herself in a photograph
 “But before Ah seen the de picture Ah thought Ah wuz just
like de rest.” (9)
2. Why was Janie raised by her grandmother?
 Janie’s
mother ran off; Janie’s father,
who had raped her mother, was running
from the law
◦ “…Ah never called mah Grandma nothin’ but
Nanny, ‘cause dat’s what everybody on de
place called her.” (8)
3. Who was Janie’s grandfather (Leafy’s father)?
 Janie’s
grandfather was a white slave
 Leafy was the byproduct of sexual
4. Why did Nanny run away from the plantation?
 She
was going to be whipped to near
death for having the Master’s baby.
◦ Upon people realizing Leafy resembled the
white slave master, Nanny knew she had to
escape in order to save herself and Leafy
5. Why did Nanny want Janie to marry Logan
So that she could have a stable, comfortable
life, and be watched after.
◦ “You aint got nobody but me. And mah head is ole
and tilted towards de grave. Neither can you stand
alone by yo’self. De thought uh you bein’ kicked
around from pillar tuh post is uh hurtin’ thing. Every
tear you drop squeezes a cup uh blood outa mah
heart. Ah got tuh try and do for you befo’ mah head
is cold.” (15)
6. What happened to Janie’s mother at age 17?
What happens as a result?
She was raped by a white man and became
pregnant with Janie.
◦ “And after you were born she took to drinkin’ likker
and stayin’ out nights. Couldn’t git her to stay here
and nowhere else. Lawd knows where she is right
now…” (19)
7. Who was Janie’s father?
Janie’s father was a white man, her school
teacher, who ran off the night he raped Leafy.
8. What does Nanny mean when she says that she is
a “cracked plate”?
Answers may vary:
◦ Nanny is saying she is old and fragile, and to go easy
on her.
◦ Nanny’s fragility is not something she wishes upon
◦ She wishes for sympathy from Janie before her death
 “Put me down easy” (20)
Chapter Three
1. What ideals does Janie have about love?
She has a very idealistic and romantic view. She
feels she will be swept away in bliss
◦ “…Nanny and the old folks had said it, so it must be
so… Janie felt glad of the thought, for then it
wouldn’t seem so destructive and mouldy. She
wouldn’t be lonely anymore.”
 Janie marries Logan for others’ expectations, for the comfort
and protection marriage offers, but not out of love
2. What does Janie believe will happen after she and
Logan get married?
She will fall in love with him and experience the
type of love she has always dreamed about.
◦ She expects love to happen and begins to worry
when she doesn’t feel love for Logan
 “The new moon has been up and down three times before
she got worried in mind.” (22)
3. How does Janie feel about her husband?
Although he takes care of her, she is repulsed
by him and certainly doesn’t love him.
◦ “Ah’d ruther be shot wid tacks than tuh turn over in
de bed and stir up de air whilst he is in dere… Ah
wants things sweet wid mah marriage lak when you
sit under a pear tree…” (24)
4. What is Nanny’s advice to Janie?
 Nanny’s
advice for Janie is to be
patient and wait for love to come
◦ “Better leave things de way dey is.
Youse young yet. No tellin’ whut mout
happen befo’ you die. Wait awhile,
baby. Yo’ mind will change.” (24)
5. What do you think the narrator means when she
says” She knew the world was a stallion rolling in
the blue pasture of ether”?
Answers may vary:
◦ The world was a breeding place for new life (stallion)
in the universe (blue pasture of ether)
◦ The world goes around and life goes on no matter
6. Analyze the following: “Janie’s first dream was
dead, so she became a woman.” How does this
statement relate to claims made in chapter one
that “the dream is the truth”?
Answers may vary:
◦ Janie’s first dream (her romantic ideal of the way
love should be) was dead, so she had her first real
disappointment in life.
◦ This statement of the death of her dream means that
to her, her life begins with this disappointment; this
disappointment is her reality—she will have to make
the best of her life from then on.
Chapter Four
1. How has Janie’s marriage to Logan
changed since they were first married?
 Logan
doesn’t show much love or
attention; he wants Janie to work hard
labor next to him.
◦ “…Janie noticed that her husband had stopped
talking in rhymes to her.” (26)
◦ “You ain’t got no mo’ business wid uh plow than
uh hog is got wid uh holiday!” (Joe Starks, 29)
2. What does Logan want Janie to do with the
mule he plans to bring back from town?
wants her to work on a plow
in the field with him.
◦“Ah aims tuh run two plows…”
(Logan, 27)
3. Describe Joe Starks. How does Janie
act when she first meets him?
He is well-groomed, attractive, stylishly-dressed;
“seal-brown” in color; self-assured and driven.
◦ “He whistled… like he knew where he was going.”
Janie is flirtatious and naïve.
◦ She offers him “sweeten’ water,” to which Joe replies,
“Never specks to get too old to enjoy syrup sweeten’
water when it’s cools and nice” (28)
4. Where does Joe want to go? Why?
Joe has saved money to go to Eatonville,
 He wants to be a part of the all-black
◦ “He had always wanted to be a big voice, but de
white folks had all de sayso where he comes from
and everywhere else, exceptin’ dis place dat
colored folks was buildin’ theirselves.” (28)
5. Why do you think Janie is so attracted to Joe?
Answers will vary.
◦ He says the right things
◦ She is attracted to him, whereas she was just forced
into the relationship with Logan.
◦ He is well-dressed and seems to know what he wants
out of life.
◦ She may be attracted physically, but also attracted
to the possibility of being treated better, since he is
such a smooth talker.
6. What happens to trigger Janie’s final decision to
leave Logan?
 He
wants her to plow the field; Janie
◦ “Ah’m too honest and hard-workin’ for
anybody in yo’ family, dat’s de reason
you don’t want me!” (Logan, 32)
7. What expectations does Janie have about her
new marriage to Joe?
Janie expects that things will be better now;
that Joe will show her what real love is.
◦ “The morning road air was like a new dress. That
made her feel the apron tied around her waist. She
untied it and flung it on a low bush beside the road
and walked on, picking flowers and making a
bouquet… From now on until death she was going to
have flower dust and springtime sprinkled over
everything. A bee for her bloom.” (32)
Chapter Five
1. Why do you think Hurston begins Chapter 5 with
the sentence “On the train the next day, Joe
didn’t make many speeches with rhymes to
her…” Why is this sentence familiar?
 She
wants to make the reader believe
that Janie has finally found love. This is
familiar because Logan is previously
referred to as making speeches with
2. What is Janie and Joe’s first
impression of the town?
 They
are not very impressed; they
expected better.
◦ “Why, ‘tain’t nothing but a raw place in de
woods… A whole heap uh talk and nobody
doin’ nothin’” (Joe, 34)
◦ “It is a whole heap littler than I thought.”
(Janie, 34)
3. When Joe realizes what the town is really like,
what does he plan to do?
 He
wants to organize the town and
elect a Mayor. He also wants to build up
as many buildings and homes as
possible to make the town more
◦ “Ah’m buyin’ in here, and buyin’ in big.”
(Joe, 35)
4. What do you think of Amos Hicks and Lee Coker?
What do their personalities and behavior tell you
about the town?
 Answers
will vary.
◦ They are slow, uneducated and seem
lazy. They do not seem like the type that
will be too interested in Starks’s plan.
 The
town may react the same way.
5. Why do you think Joe Starks is so set upon building
a store and a post office? What does this tell you
about his personality and motives?
They are landmarks for the town. He wants to build
a great black city, and a post office and store
represent the beginnings. For a black town to have
a post office means that it is a nationally
recognized site.
He is driven and ambitious. He may do anything to
get what he wants, even if that means treating the
others poorly.
He has the personality of a white plantation master.
6. How do the townspeople reward Starks?
 They
elect him mayor of the town
◦ “Ah kin see dat dis town is full uh union and
love. Ah means to put mah hands tuh de
plow heah, and strain every nerve tuh
make dis town de metropolis uh de state.”
(Joe, 42)
7. How does Joe treat Janie? What does/doesn’t he
allow her to do?
He treats her as if she is fragile. He doesn’t want
her to do anything but make him look good.
 He doesn’t allow her to talk to the people she
wants to, or socialize with the “common” man.
◦ He prevents her from addressing the townspeople
after he is elected mayor
 “She’s uh woman and her place is in de home.”
8. What is symbolic about the streetlamp that Starks
Answers will vary. The light is symbolic in several
◦ It may be symbolic of Starks’s “white” influence
overtaking the town
◦ It can be a Biblical allusion to Genesis, “Let there be
◦ Starks wishes to shed light on Eatonville’s
success/garner respect from outsiders
9. How does Janie feel about her
marriage to Joe?
She feels that it is unequal; he puts her on a
pedestal and won’t let her become her own
◦ “…it just looks lak it keeps us in some way we ain’t natural wid
one ‘nother. You’se always off talkin’ and fixin’ things, and Ah
feels lak Ah’m jus’ markin’ time.” (Janie to Joe, 46)
She feels lonely.
◦ “A feeling of coldness and fear took over her. She felt far
away from things…” (46)
10. How is Janie treated as the Mayor’s wife?
 She
is treated as untouchable; she is
put on a pedestal by the town also
 People say she doesn’t talk much
and when she does, they are polite
and distant.
11. What is symbolic about the way Starks paints his
It is painted white—a symbol of his “whiteness”
dominating the town.
◦ White typically signifies purity; however, in this
instance it typifies more of a sense of control and
 “…he’s the wind and we’se de grass. We bend whichever
way he blows… Some folks need thrones…” (Sam Watson,
12. What do the townspeople notice about the way
Joe treats Janie?
 He
is bossy and rude to her; he controls her
and doesn’t allow her to speak.
◦ “She sho don’t talk much. De way he rears
and pitches in de store sometimes when she
make uh mistake is sort of ungodly, but she
don’t seem to mind at all.” (Eatonville
resident, 50)
Chapter Six
1. How do the men at the store tease Matt
Bonner about his mule?
Sam, Lige and Walter say that he works his mule
to death; the mule is old and close to death
because of him.
◦ “De womenfolks got yo’ mule… usin’ his sides for a
washboard.” (Sam, 52)
◦ “’Tain’t no feed cup you measures dat cawn outa.
It’s uh tea cup.” (Sam, 52)
2. Why is Janie having such a hard time
managing the store?
She has trouble with the math—making
change, measurements.
◦ “…she’d make the wrong change for stamps… she
couldn’t read everybody’s writing… She went
through many silent rebellions over things like that.”
3. Why does Starks buy the mule from
Matt Bonner?
Starks buys Matt’s mule that he can be the one
to “free” the mule.
 Janie acknowledges the unfair treatment of the
“poor brute beast”
◦ “A little war of defense for helpless things was going
on inside her.” (57)
4. How is freeing the mule symbolic? To whom
do the townspeople compare Starks?
It represents how Starks feels power over the
people of Eatonville; how he has taken the role of
the slave master or liberator (Janie connects him to
Abraham Lincoln)
Also, the mule represents women (think back to
Nanny’s “mule” speech). In this way, the freeing of
the mule can be the freeing of Janie from Starks, or
the freeing of women from men’s rule or control.
The townspeople compare Starks to a white slave
owner running them.
5. Why doesn’t Joe allow Janie to go to
the “draggin’-out”?
He thinks that she is too good to go to
something so base and common.
 Is this a means to control her? Is he subjecting
her to become the type of woman he wishes for
her to be without acknowledging the type of
woman she wishes to be?
◦ “…the carcass moved off with the town, and left
Janie standing in the doorway.” (60)
6. Why do you think Hurston included the strange
funeral ceremony among the buzzards?
Answers will vary.
◦ To integrate the African-American ritual
and tradition.
 It shows the importance of song and ritual,
as well as the talking animal element of
 It also brings in a bit of comic relief to the story
at this point.
7. Why does Joe think that Janie is
being ungrateful?
She wants to be able to be her own person,
and do what Starks forbids her to do.
 Starks thinks she is being ungrateful by wanting
to be like a common, average woman when he
has worked to put them both in a position of
authority and respect, and he thinks Janie
doesn’t appreciate all he’s done.
8. According to Sam and Lige, what is it that keeps a
man from being burned on the stove? Who do
you think ‘wins’ the argument?
Sam and Life engage in what is commonly referred to
as “playing the dozens.” They debate the age-old
nature versus nurture question.
 These “porch” conversations are another element of the
heritage of African-Americans.
Continue to next slide
God made nature and
everything else. It is
nature that keeps a
man from touching a
hot stove. Nature
made caution, which
keeps us from
touching a hot stove.
It is caution: We don’t
touch a hot stove
because if we knew not
to touch a hot stove
because it was in our
nature, then we
wouldn’t have to watch
to make sure babies
don’t touch it. (Lige)
9. What does Hurston mean when she writes, “The
bed was no longer a daisy-field for her and Joe
to play in”?
There was no passion or love between them.
 It was no longer fun and playful.
◦ This counteracts/returns to the flower symbols,
(“picking flowers and making a bouquet”, “flower
dust”) used by Hurston earlier (end of chapter 4),
when Janie’s intention to leave for Eatontown with
Joe was hopeful and fresh
Chapter Seven
1. How is Janie able to “tolerate” her
relationship with Jody?
She ignores him and stays out of his way as
much as possible.
◦ “The years took all the fight out of Janie’s face… She
learned how to talk some and leave some… she
lived between her hat and her heels, with her
emotional disturbances like shade patterns in the
woods– come and gone with the sun… She got so
she received all things with the stolidness of the earth
which soaks up urine and perfume with the same
indifference.” (76-77)
2. What does the narrator mean by “For the first time
she could see a man’s head naked of its skull”?
For the first time, Janie really knows what Joe is
thinking and how he works. She has become
more wise.
◦ Janie begins to observe and acknowledge Joe’s old
age and decline in health
 Her future with Joe, all of a sudden, seems narrow.
 “She just measured out a little time for him and set it aside to wait.”
3. Why did the narrator say that the incident with the tobacco was
“like somebody snatched off part of a woman’s clothes while
she wasn’t looking and the streets were crowded”?
Janie was truly humiliated and publically
◦ Mixon treated Janie’s mistake as a joke; Joe treats
her mistake as a disaster
 Janie stands up for herself in front of everyone for the first
time, demonstrating a new side of the mayor’s wife not
previously witnessed
 “You big-bellies round here and put out a lot of brag, but ‘tain’t
nothin’ to it but yo’ big voice.” (Janie, 79)
4. How old are Janie and Jody now?
Janie is almost forty and Jody is almost fifty.
◦ “…Ah’m nearly forty and you’se nearly fifty… Ah
ain’t no young girl no mo’ but den Ah ain’t no old
woman neither.” (Janie, 79)
5. How does Janie insult Jody about his
She says “When you pull down yo’ britches, you
look like de change of life.”
◦ “…Joe Starks realized all the meanings and his vanity
bled like a flood. Janie had robbed him of his illusion
of irresistable maleness that all men cherish.” (79)
6. How does Jody react to the insult?
He reacts violently, out of humiliation, and slaps
◦ “…she had cast down his empty armor before men
and they had laughed, would keep on laughing.
When he paraded his possessions hereafter, they
would not consider the two together. They’d look
with envy at the things and pity the man that owned
them… Joe Starks didn’t know the words for all of
this, but he knew the feeling. So he struck Janie with
all of his might and drove her from the store.” (80)
Chapter Eight
1. Why does Janie feel bad about
hurting Joe?
She feels bad because she doesn’t like hurting
anyone— even when the hurting seems justified.
◦ “Why must Joe be so mad with her for making him
look small when he did it to her all the time. Had
been doing it for years.” (81)
◦ “Ah’d ruther be dead than for Jody to think that
Ah’d hurt him… God in heben knows Ah wouldn’t
do one thing tuh hurt nobody. It’s too underhand
and mean.” (Janie to Phoebe, 82)
2. What do the townspeople believe
Janie has done to Joe?
 They
believe she poisoned him for
purposes of revenge
◦ Irony = For close to twenty years, Jody
has been poisoning/slowly killing
Janie’s dreams/hopes
3. What is wrong with Joe?
He is dying of kidney failure.
◦ “When a man’s kidney’s stop working altogether,
there is no way for him to live. He needed medical
attention two years ago. Too late now.” (the doctor,
4. What does the author mean by: “She was
liable to find a feather from his wings
lying in her yard any day now”?
He was going to die any day.
◦ Irony = Janie sees death as an eternal being (“Been
standing there before there was a where or a when
or a then”) when death really introduces people to
◦ Janie’s concept of death is a vacuum – a space
"without sides and without a roof" – signaling the
emptiness and eternity of death.
5. Why does Janie visit Jody on his
deathbed? What does she say?
She wants to set things straight between them.
She wants him to know that she wanted the
best when they got married, but things fell apart
as he became more and more greedy and
 She wants him to know that she never wished
him ill-will, but that she grew to resent him
because of the way she was treated.
6. On at least two occasions, Hurston refers to death as “squaretoed”, which means exceedingly proper or straight-laced.
Why might Hurston describe death in this manner?
 Answers
will vary.
◦ Death is proper because it always
does what it is supposed to do.
◦ It creeps in unnoticed and disappears
7. Why is it that one of the first things Janie does after
Jody’s death is let her hair down?
It is symbolic of her new freedom from the
control and tyranny of their marriage.
◦ “She tore off the kerchief from her head and let
down her plentiful hair. The weight, the length, the
glory was there.“
 Janie’s womanhood is still in tact; it is something that not
even Jody- nor anyone- could take from her
 Years of confinement and concealment vanish
Chapter Nine
1. What do you think the author means by “She sent her face to
Joe’s funeral, and herself went rollicking with springtime
across the world”?
 Answers
will vary.
◦ She attended his funeral physically
appearing to mourn, but in her spirit,
she was rejoicing that she was finally
free from Joe Starks.
 She burns all of her head rags and begins
to wear her hair in a long braid again
2. Why does Janie hate her grandmother
so much?
Her grandmother made her marry Logan, and it
was with this marriage that Janie lost who she
was as a person. She blames her for being the
person she became. Janie was never able to
live her own life since Nanny made her marry
 Janie is now free to live her own life, and to do
what she wants to do.
3. What does the author mean by “Like all the other
tumbling mud-balls, Janie had tried to show her
The narrator describes how God made man—
that he made him out of a jewel, but then the
angels got jealous of the shine, and broke up
the shine. Then they were beaten to sparks and
covered with mud.
◦ This is symbolic of the spirit and spark in people that
has been lost.
 Janie knew she had a spark buried deep inside her, and
wanted to remove the mud and shine again. She means
that everyone else is also trying to find their own “shine.”
4. How have the men been treating Janie since
Joe’s death? What is Janie’s reaction to these
No suitors have come to see her in six months.
They are treating her as if she is fragile and
helpless. They try to take care of her in every
 Janie has no interest in them, and often finds
their gestures humorous and silly.
5. What does Janie mean when she says, “Let ‘em say
whut deh wants tuh, Pheoby. To my thinkin’
mourning oughtn’t tuh last longer’n grief”? Why is
this statement important to Janie and her journey?
Janie is not sad about Joe’s death. She should
not have to pretend that she is in mourning for
his death when she is not really grieving over
◦ She knew that Joe’s death was imminent and had
prepared herself for mourning before his death; she
has also been waiting for liberation all her life
Chapter Ten
1. Where has everyone gone, leaving
Janie alone?
 Everyone
has gone to a baseball
◦ This sets the stage for her chance
encounter with Tea Cake
 While everyone goes off to see a
game, Janie is about to play a game
2. What is Tea Cake’s real name? Judging
from his nickname alone, what kind of person
do you think Tea Cake is?
 Tea
Cake = Vergible Woods.
 Answers will vary:
◦ Sweet?
◦ Good natured?
◦ Companion?
◦ Playful?
3. How is Tea Cake different from the other
men of Eatonville?
 He
treats Janie as an equal. He doesn’t
put her down, nor does he treat her as
◦ Janie has already begun to develop a
strong, independent sense of self
 Tea Cake acts as catalyst and supports
her rather than stifling her
4. What is Janie’s reaction to Tea Cake?
She is intrigued and attracted to him, but
◦ Janie’s quest for the “horizon” is not one involving
materialism (Jody); rather, the pursuit of her goals
should be spiritual/mystical (Tea Cake)
 However, she is so unaccustomed to being involved with a
man so concerned with things beyond material life that
she sees Tea Cake as ‘too good to be true.’
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