Sensory Language, Idealism and Realism in Their Eyes Were Watching God

Zora Neale Hurston enriches our sense of her childhood world by using sensory language and manipulating the reader’s view by articulating the contrast between her mother’s idealism and her father’s realism.

Hurston’s diction and syntax come together to create a vivid image of the beautiful Garden of Eden that held all her needs. Hurston’s first steps into the city are identifiable by the “fleshy, white, fragrant blooms,” that were too common to charge for in the countryside, but were a gift to be paid for up in the north.

These descriptive words serve as the foundation Hurston sets up to appeal to our senses. The repeated “plenty” of tropical fruits, entertainment, land, and space form the idea of a grand fulfilling self-sufficient land, as alluded to the Garden of Eden, is a perfect world without sins, such as racism and prejudice. Her five-acre garden in which they were “never hungry” and even held enough fruit to be used as toys is used to emphasize that as a child Hurston was provided for and taken care of.

Hurston creates this feeling in order for the readers to see that the perfect garden provided for her in the same way the Garden of Eden provided for Adam and Eve. The biblical analogy is pushed further when Hurston specifically chooses a Northern apple to represent temptation and curiosity. Just as Adam and Eve were tempted with curiosity to eat the forbidden fruit, Hurston alludes to the apple as the temptation that lead to the tainting of her innocence in the North; that was once preserved for her in her plentiful land.

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Hurston deliberately compares her father’s cynicism and her mother’s optimism to develop the conflicting ideals of environment versus experience in her childhood life. By revealing Papa’s dire predictions of “white folk were not going to stand for it…somebody was going to blow me down for my sassy tongue” and Papa’s “personal reference” on the subject Hurston effectively conveys her father’s history with white folk. Hurston’s father’s cynicism derives from his background experience of prejudice.

Hurston’s Mama, however, is sheltered in the South and her comforting environment is the source of her idealism. Hurston’s mother’s optimism that encourages Zora to “jump at de sun” reveals that Mama is uneducated full of hope in her children’s future. The competing views that influence Hurston’s childhood provide a tension in her life that she didn’t quite understand as a child, but will encounter in the North.

Hurston starts with the innocence and romantic viewpoint of life, but after her experiences in the North the reality of racism creates a drastic difference compared to her idealized childhood, The childhood portion of Hurston’s autobiography is written to explicitly express her sheltered perfect garden and the temptation to wander out into the North.

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Sensory Language, Idealism and Realism in Their Eyes Were Watching God. (2023, May 06). Retrieved from

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