Justification for Teaching:

Their Eyes Were Watching God is the perfect book for your classroom because it addresses multiple issues on the individual and global scale in a way that helps students relate to modern societal and personal problems. Students will enjoy the novel especially for its portrayal of struggle and perseverance. Your students will grow to love Janie, a strong female protagonist who not only strives for true love in a relationship, but the freedom to choose that love.

Their Eyes Were Watching God is an excellent choice for your classroom because it paints an accurate picture of what life was like in the early 20th century. Your students will find this book heavy with discussion topics, ranging from racism to freedom to love, and they will find themselves forming their own distinct opinions.

Key Literary Elements & Techniques

  • Irony
  • Personification
  • Symbolism
  • Metaphor
  • Folklore

Themes and Motifs

  • Freedom — Not only does this represent the freedom sought by African Americans of the time, but also the freedom Janie strives for mentally and emotionally
  • Identity — Janie realizes she must find an identity in herself alone and not on the basis of a relationship
  • Individual & Society — Janie seems to be alone on her journey, but to truly discover herself she needs others around her

Related Works

Themes of freedom

A Thousand Splendid Suns

A Doll’s House

A Tale of Two Cities

Themes of identity

Jane Eyre

The Pact


Themes of the individual vs. society

The Bell Jar


Of Mice and Men

Key Facts

  • Length: 219 pages
  • Lexile® Measure: 1080
  • Recommended Grade Band: 11-12
  • Publication Date: 1937


  • New York Times Bestseller


A made-for-TV film of the same name, produced by Oprah Winfrey, premiered on ABC in 2005. The movie garnered a lukewarm critical reception, many noting that while the book got down to the troubling issues, the movie was flimsy in content.

External Resources:

Their Eyes Were Watching God (Wikipedia)

Film Trailer (YouTube)

Article on the book and film (The New York Times)

Reading Group Guide (zoranealehurston.com)

Zora Neale Hurston and the Harlem Renaissance (rollins.edu)

Potential Objections

  • Sexual content:There is some sexually explicit language in the book.
  • Racial slurs: There are also some racial slurs in the novel.

Your students will love:

  • Following Janie as she matures along her life's journey

Students may have problems with:

  • The racial slurs contained in the novel — some students may not feel comfortable reading them, especially if you ask them to read portions of the novel aloud in class

Available from Prestwick House:


Their Eyes Were Watching God — Paperback

Their Eyes Were Watching God — Hardcover

Teaching Guides:

Literature Teaching Unit:

Teaching Unit

Downloadable Teaching Unit

30 Books + Teaching Unit

AP Literature Teaching Unit:

AP Literature Teaching Unit

Downloadable AP Literature Teaching Unit

30 Books + AP Literature Teaching Unit

Activity Pack:

Activity Pack

Downloadable Activity Pack

30 Books + Activity Pack

Levels of Understanding Guide:

Levels of Understanding Guide

Downloadable Levels of Understanding Guide

30 Books + Levels of Understanding Guide

Response Journal:

Response Journal

Downloadable Response Journal

30 Books + Response Journal

Vocabulary from Literature:

Vocabulary from Literature

Downloadable Vocabulary from Literature

30 Books + Vocabulary from Literature

Complete Teacher's Kit:

Complete Teacher's Kit

30 Books + Complete Teacher's Kit

Other resources:

Downloadable Novel Test

Digital Lecture Series (presentation software)

Interactive Trivia Challenge Game (presentation software)

Their Eyes Were Watching God