Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) is known as a “speakerly” text. This essay argues that the novel is also a “listenerly” text—that, as in her work in general, in Their Eyes Hurston celebrates close listening as much as speaking—and that this valuing of listening is informed by the practices of the Black folk she encountered doing research for her anthropological project. In Their Eyes the protagonist Janie performs the kind of critical listenership Hurston observed in the southern Black rural communiuties, and, in contrast to Black communities centered on the male voice, she envisions a different kind of Black community, the organizing principle of which is less individual speaking and more mutual, careful, and sympathetic listening to each other. Widening its focus, finally the essay considers how, with its free indirect discourse, the novel gestures toward establishing a collaboration among the author, the folk characters, and the reader to help bring that “listenerly” Black community into being.

You do not currently have access to this content.