Their Eyes Were Watching God: Chapters 1-4

Contributor: Melissa Kowalski. Lesson ID: 12170

Reality can be harsh, and bigotry can crush the creative spirit of the oppressed. One woman writer dared to write about a double-barreled minority, the African American woman of America in the 1900s!


Literary Studies

learning style
personality style
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!


Can you identify the person in the picture below? Why might she be important?

Zora Neale Hurston

Image from the Library of Congress, via Wikimedia Commons, has no known restrictions on publication.

Until a few years ago, few people knew Zora Neale Hurston's name, let alone recognized a picture of her.

However, thanks to the efforts of several prominent African American writers and literary critics, including Alice Walker, the name and reputation of Zora Neale Hurston is more well-known today than it was during her lifetime. Had it not been for the efforts of these writers and critics throughout the 1970s, Hurston's biography would remain unknown and her literary works would be out of print as they were for much of her life. However, Hurston's work is now widely read in high schools and colleges across the country as one of the best examples of early twentieth-century writing on the African American woman's experience.

To learn more about Hurston's life, read the following article. As you read, write down the answers to the following questions on a separate sheet of paper:

  • Why did Hurston create a false story about her birth, which she claimed occurred in Eatonville, Florida?
  • Why did Hurston often change the date of her birth?
  • How did Hurston's mother's death affect Zora?
  • Where did Hurston become acquainted with other notable writers of the Harlem Renaissance?
  • How did Hurston's study of anthropology influence her literary works?
  • What continuing struggle did Hurston face starting in the 1930s?
  • What scandal did Hurston face in 1948?
  • What was unusual about Hurston's burial in 1960?

Read Hurston's Life, by Anna Lillios, posted by the University of Central Florida. When you have read the article and answered the questions, share your responses with your parent or teacher.

Hurston's life was filled with both successes and difficulties, and although she experienced success in mid-life, she died in obscurity and poverty. Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston's most famous novel, was published in 1937. The book follows the life of Janie Mae Crawford, who is 40 when the novel begins. She recounts the story of her life to her friend, Pheoby, while sitting on the porch of her house. As you begin the novel, take notes on the events in Janie's life. Write down at least seven events from the lives of the Crawford women: Janie's grandmother, mother, and Janie herself. You will use these notes to help you answer questions about the reading in the Got It? section.

Read Chapters One through Four of Their Eyes Were Watching God. You can obtain a print copy of the novel at a local library or from a bookstore. There are often inexpensive used copies available online and in used book stores as well.

When you have finished your reading and taking notes, continue on to the Got It? section to explore the beginning of the novel.

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