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169 THE ANTHROPOLOGICAL NARRATOR OF HURSTON'S THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD John D. KaIb* From the earliest rocking of my cradle, I had known about the capers Brer Rabbit is apt to cut and what the Squinch Owl says from the housetop . But it was fitting me like a tight chemise. I couldn't see it for wearing it. It was only when I was off in college, away from my native surroundings , that I could see myself like somebody else and stand off and look at my garment. Then I had to have the spy-glass of Anthropology to look through at that.1 As a child in Eatonville, Florida, Zora Neale Hurston lived fully in the folk-culture of her native home. As many people do, she took for granted the society and culture in which she was immersed. It was not until she began her wanderings northward, eventually attending Howard University and finally Barnard College, where she studied under Dr. Franz Boas and took up the "spy-glass of Anthropology," that she was able to see the cultural wealth of the community in which she spent the early years of her life. Anthropology afforded Hurston the opportunity to return to Eatonville (as well as travel to Alabama, Haiti, and other regions) as a cultural ethnographer, to observe and record the folk tales and legends in the authentic narrative voice of the native inhabitants. This fieldwork helped her to legitimize an insatiable thirst for knowledge and understanding. "Research," Hurston wrote, "is a formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose. It is seeking that he who wishes may know the cosmic secrets of the world and they that dwell therein."2 Thus it was necessary for Hurston to separate and disassociate herself from her community and culture in order that she might come to fully appreciate and comprehend the "cosmic secrets" of her childhood years and the people of her community. If participation in an event makes one blind to the full merit and value of it, and if removal of oneself from the scene of that event is necessary for the clear and fruitful observation and understanding of the event and one's participation in it, then Hurston shrewdly created an appropriate narrator for Their Eyes Were Watching God, one who moves freely between these poles of spectator and participant. Full participation is required so 'John D. KaIb is a doctoral student at Michigan State University. He has published in Southern Literary Journal and Centennial Review and is currently working on a dissertation on twentieth-century American literature. 170John D. Kalb that the "garment" may be experienced first-hand, and the advantage of the spectator's distance from that "garment" allows and warrants observation , speculation, and evaluation from without. This movement from spectator to participant and back again in the narrative voice of Their Eyes Were Watching God has troubled some critics who, upon encountering the dialect of the various characters within the third-person narrative, become confused as to which is narration and which is dialogue. Darwin T. Turner, in his In a Minor Chord, provides one of the worst misreadings of the novel. "She weakened the plot," Turner claims, "by a careless shift of point of view and by digressions. Although she narrated most of the story through Janie, she shifted to Nanny in the second chapter."3 On the contrary, although Chapter 2 features short first-person narratives by both Janie and Nanny, the frame narrative continues throughout the novel in the third person. Lillie P. Howard, in Zora Neale Hurston, is also troubled by this "rather awkwardly told" tale that employs both "an omniscient narrator" and Janie to relate it.4 Even Robert E. Hemenway, whose Zora Neal Hurston: A Literary Biography treats Hurston with compassion and empathy, mentions that the "ending seems poorly plotted, and the narration shifts awkwardly from first to third person."5 Other recent critics—Barbara Christian, Missy Dehn Kubitschek, Wendy J. McCredie, and Maria Tai Wolff, in particular—have come to terms with the fact that the novel, although told by a third-person narrator , relies quite heavily upon tales told by various characters and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-5806
Print ISSN
0091-8083
Pages
pp. 169-180
Launched on MUSE
2014-10-01
Open Access
No
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