The denunciation of patriarchy and capitalism in Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God
The figuration of Janie in Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God is an undeniable contestation of gender oppression. The contours of previous criticism have mapped out various directions of arguments, some of which make feminism a sort of critical mantra of Hurston criticism. In spite of such existing claims that the novel challenges the premises of women’s oppression within the African American social milieu, a closer look at the text shows that critics have not exhausted all that needs to be said on this subject. This essay premises its argument on the assertion that Their Eyes protests entrenched patriarchy and middle class or bourgeois capitalism. These two ideologies dominate Janie’s grandmother’s mind, and compel her to teach the protagonist to submit and accept inferior gender status, hence affirming the argument that women as well as men contribute to the existing patriarchal order. Indoctrinated into this system by her grandmother, Janie experiences three marriages that make her realize that she can no longer live according to her grandmother’s wishes. Instead, she makes personal efforts to denounce capitalist patriarchy in order to live her life to the fullest. She explicitly tells her friend Pheoby, “Ah done lived Grandma’s way, now Ah means to live mine” (114). Janie’s process of self discovery brings to the surface complex gender oppression which cross the racial and class divide. My project will use radical feminist and Marxist feminist theories to look at Janie’s three oppressive marriages, her support at the trial from white women, and the feminist significance of the catastrophic hurricane at the end of the novel. This natural phenomenon, I intend to argue, is symbolic of a feminist, anti-capitalist revolt which powerfully articulates Marx’s theory with regards to capitalism’s appropriation of women and nature for purposes of exploitation.
Thesis ([M.A.] - Wichita State University, College of Liberal Arts and Science, Dept. of English