Black Women Writers @ Southwestern University

An English / Feminist Studies / Race & Ethnicity Studies Course Blog


So I had to read Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God for David Gaines’ 20th & 21st Century Literature class, and after hearing about how Alice Walker re-introduced the novel to the literary world, I Youtubed both authors out of curiosity. As a result, I found this video.

It’s a discussion panel with Alice Walker talking about the significance of Their Eyes, but she brings up a lot of really interesting values that I feel she strung along with her when she wrote The Color Purple. For example, she mentions how Hurston celebrated the black community for what it was, despite all the shortcomings and humane flaws. In The Color Purple, for example, there’s a tremendous sense of togetherness, despite the ways that all of the characters hurt each other. There’s a sensation that they are all in the same boat. Walker also describes how a lot of the time, black history was about survival in “an incredibly toxic culture”. Occasionally, that means not fighting: “I don’t fight, I stay where I’m told. But I’m alive” (22). Survival is an important theme in The Color Purple, because it is how Celie gets through life. Not fighting doesn’t always equal something negative.

Lastly, Walker discusses how readers didn’t really know how to react to Their Eyes Were Watching God, back in the day, because they were scared. Scared to be themselves and scared to feel joy. To not feel so scared about it all, she argues, was what Hurston was trying to put out there. With The Color Purple, I feel, Walker is kind of carrying out Hurston’s legacy and celebrating being whatever one happens to be. In Celie’s case, that happens to be a lesbian black woman.


3 thoughts on “

  1. Thanks so much for posting this! I’ve been thinking about starting our course with Their Eyes Were Watching God in the future. What do you think about this? From your perspective, would it be helpful context?

    Also, I love that Sonia Sanchez is sitting next to Walker on the panel 🙂

  2. I had forgotten that Alice Walker sort of resurrected Zora Neale Hurston’s work, and while I was reading The Color Purple, I couldn’t help thinking of Their Eyes Were Watching God. I thought that the novels’ similar rural southern black milieux were just coincidental, but now it totally makes sense. Thanks.

  3. It would definitely be helpful context. Interestingly, I found that not only did I understand The Color Purple better after reading Their Eyes Were Watching God, but I ended up understanding Their Eyes better after The Color Purple! In some ways, I feel like I didn’t even “understand” the ending of Their Eyes until I watched this video. It’s like the two novels talk to each other.

    So yes 🙂 Maybe it could be squeezed in somewhere at the beginning of the course!

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