Hurston Zora Neale’s article “What White Publishers Won’t Print’’ and her novel ‘’Their Eyes Were Watching God’’ have a common correlation in their exploration of the challenges undergone by Black Women face in a society that is designed to deny them opportunities and freedom to stand for what they want and who they are. Both works portray a powerful critique of the ways in which Black women are excluded and marginalized in mainstream society.
The article highlights the limited opportunities and challenges encountered by a Black woman writer, especially in finding publishers who were ready to publish their work. Hurston critiques how black writers are always expected to obey the standards and expectations of white publishers. She argues and stands for the freedom and right of black writers to write and express their own ideas about their culture and experiences without being concerned about the white audience (Hurston, 1950). Hurston’s experiences depict how the literary industry is structured to uphold white supremacy and the manner in which Black writers are stigmatized in mainstream publishing. She observes that the majority of the publishers are only interested in literary works that buttress the stereotypes about Black society than works that intensively express Black life’s nature.
Similarly, the same dogma arises in the novel, which explores the theme of race, gender and self-discovery or identity of a black woman as they struggle to put up with the expectations placed on them in the men-dominated society. The novel is known for the intense use of African American vernacular language despite its stigmatization and condemnation for being ‘uneducated’ and ‘broken .’Hurston uses the intense vernacular language to communicate her characters’ different experiences and views rather than conforming to conventional linguistic standards.
One of the main themes portrayed in the novel is self-identity. Janie, a girl raised by her grandmother, struggles to discover her perception of self by being torn between abiding by her grandmother’s expectations and following her own will. Her grandmother insists on the importance of social class and respectability, putting limitations and expectations on her to marry a man of higher social class and financial security (Hurston, 1937). However, her grandmother’s expectations contradict her desires as she longs for stronger connections of love and passion. Throughout the story, Janie is engaged in a relationship with three different men who have their expectations of her. Through these relationships, Janie learns and finds her sense and importance of self-identity and fulfillment by accepting her aspirations and desires, which gave her agency, and by rejecting the expectations placed upon her by other individuals. (Two things everybody’s got tuh do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin’ fuh theyselves…Ah didn’t know Ah wuzn’t white till Ah was around six years old). These quotes express Janie’s self-identity in the novel.
Racism and sexism are other themes in the novel that show Black women’s experiences in a racist and sexist society. The novel was set in the early 20th century when white supremacy and discrimination against the black race were so prevalent in American society. (“They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God.”) This quote depicts how white people viewed and judged black people. Janie’s grandmother, Nanny, symbolizes the racism aspect as shown when the white mistress beats her and tells her to sell her own daughter, Leafy. (So Ah told her, ‘Ah don’t know nothin’ but what Ah’m told tuh do, ‘cause Ah ain’t nothin’ but uh negro and uh slave). These were the mistress’ words on the plantation. The words depict that the whites had no respect for black people. The raping of Nanny and Leafy in the novel shows the little respect the whites had for black (Hurston, 1937). The sufferings Nanny underwent due to racism forces her to keep expectations on Janie to marry a wealthy man, Killicks, for status and respectability. Nanny also portrays the ill-treatment of the whites to the black people whom some even act agreeably to the whites (Cept a few that pass for white, folks set ’emselves off from colored folks, and they ain’t got no more privilege than we got. They ain’t really nobody). This shows the discrimination black people encountered.
Hurston also shows men’s maltreatment, exploitation and domination over women. ( “De negro woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see.”) These were the words of Janie’s second husband, Joe Starks, and depicted the deeply engrained sexism black women faced. Black women were viewed and positioned at the bottom of the social hierarchy. The quote indicates the sexist oppression Janie and other African women underwent during that period. However, despite the racism and sexism faced by black women, the film still portrays the strength and resilience of Black women like Janie, who struggled to find their own identities and empowerment despite the hurdles they faced.
In conclusion, the article and the novel gravely criticize the marginalization, discrimination and exclusion of the Black woman in the racist and patriarchal conventional society. The article highlights the ways in which systematic white supremacy and racism are enhanced and incorporated into the society. Additionally, the novel explores and depicts how this system plays out from a broader perspective. Both the novel and the article necessitate the society to think about society’s structural arrangement and functionality critically and therefore rebuild it in a form that will ensure justice and equality for all.
Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937)
Hurston, Zora Neale. “What White Publishers Won’t Print (1950).”