Unit Summary

Students will read, discuss, and give written responses and illustrated interpretations to Zora Neale Hurston’s novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. Analysis of the novel will focus on the major themes. In drawing on the themes, students will also consider personal, social, and societal connections to the novel.

Primary Concepts and Ideas

  • Each person’s background and experience can play an enormous role in how they respond to others
  • Those who are discriminated against sometimes practice discrimination against people of their own group
  • The values that a person holds influence the type of marriage they choose
  • Character development is often a question of pursuing your dreams, even against high stakes
  • Even without material riches, it is possible to learn and to thrive in life and the culture that brings you alive
  • Racism can happen within a group as well as between groups
  • Talk is not the same thing as experience

Key Questions

  • What does it mean to go on a journey of self-discovery?
  • Why do people discriminate against each other?
  • What is the importance of a personal dream?
  • How does folk culture and folklore influence our understanding of Their Eyes Were Watching God?
Skills in Focus

  • Read and comprehend Their Eyes Were Watching God
  • Analyze language, character development, plot, themes, symbols, and figurative language in the novel
  • Respond to questions which assess close reading skills
  • Respond to questions which assess analysis and interpretation skills
  • Use mapping, journal-writing, and illustration to explore interpretations of the text
Assessments

  • Informal assessments of student learning based on evidence of their understanding, participation in discussion, and quality of written and oral contributions
  • Formal assessment at the conclusion of reading and studying the novel
Additional Resources for Teachers

The Big Read (National Endowment for the Arts)
This resource contains information about the historical context for Their Eyes Were Watching God, autobiographical information about Zora Neale Hurston, discussion questions (some of which can be adapted to be activities), additional resources, and a teacher's guide.

The teacher's guide includes an introduction to the novel, a schedule of lesson plans, capstone project ideas, essay topics, links to print resources, and essay topics.

EdSITEment (National Endowment for the Humanities)
Folklore in Their Eyes Were Watching God is the focus of these materials, which include a guiding question, learning objectives, step-by-step instructions on preparing to teach the lesson, suggested activities (listed below), and selected websites.

  • Folklore and Traditional Life in Their Eyes Were Watching God
  • Folk Song and Folk Narrative: Orality, Performance, and Transcription
  • Hurston and Storytelling
Reading Group Guides
This website provides a book summary and discussion questions, which are most appropriate for readers who have completed the novel.

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