What is the relationship between formal individual literary creativity and the informal, traditional aesthetic standards of the writer's own community? We're about to find out. In conjunction with a novel study of Zora Neale Hurston's novel Their Eyes Were Watching G-d, we will accomplish the following goals:
Define folklore, folk groups, tradition, and oral narrative.
Identify traditional elements in Their Eyes Were Watching G-d.
Analyze and understand the role of traditional folkways and folk speech in the overall literary impact of the novel.
Compare Zora Neale Hurston's work as a collector of folk narrative with her better-known status as a novelist.
Understand as both listeners and tellers the importance of voice, pacing, and other features of performance in oral narrative.
Transcribe orally given narrative into eye dialect.
What follows is an outline of assignments. Consider this your "syllabus" for the novel. After you finish reading, we will begin the following lessons:
Review and discuss folklore terminology; defining folk groups; folk groups in Their Eyes Were Watching G-d (extra copy of handout). Homework: Read Alice Walker's essay "Zora Neale Hurston: A Cautionary Tale and a Partisan View" in In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens, pp. 83-92.
Zora Neale Hurston: Novelist, Folklorist, Anthropologist; "A Genius of the South." Class discussion of Hurston's biography and Alice Walker's thoughts on Hurston. For homework, read Proposed Recording Expedition to the Floridas. Read the Notes. Click on the link that says "View text" and scroll down and begin reading when you see Corse's letter: "Dear Mr. Alsberg." Keep reading up to the end of "Sanctified Anthem." After you've read, hit the back button on your browser and click on the link that says "View images" if you like. You will find that the words you just read are a transcription of Hurston's typed notes (and you might find that seeing that makes it easier to read). Review Ethnic and Cultural Groups Recorded by the WPA in Florida. Be prepared to work with a partner during your next class in compiling information into your chart: "Folklore in Their Eyes Were Watching G-d" (extra copy).
We will listen to a folk song performed by Zora Neale Hurston. We are going to practice "transcription" -- writing down what we hear -- a method of gathering folklore employed by Hurston herself. Next, you will listen to several songs (see the radio blog to the right). Choose one that you want to transcribe. You will need to listen to it several times. After you have transcribed the song, rewrite it in "eye dialect." We will pass around our transcriptions and read them aloud, after which we will have a discussion about the transcriptions. Finally, we will view some of Hurston's own transcriptions and discuss.
Storytelling is an integral part of the African-American folklore tradition. I am going to perform a folktale, "Why Women Always Take Advantage of Men" in a storyteller fashion. Then you are going to break into groups of four and put together a performance of a folktale. After a group performs a folktale, the "audience" will attempt to transcribe a few lines from the performance from memory, highlighting any features you noticed as the group acted out the story.
Return to your handout "Folklore in Their Eyes Were Watching G-d." Complete the second part of the worksheet for homework.
Class discussion of the theme of storytelling and the role of "orality" in the novel.
Challenge: For extra credit, craft your own short story in which you draw on your own folk traditions and folk group affiliations to create believable characters, social relationships, conflicts, and dialogue. Refer to Chapters Five and Six of Their Eyes Were Watching G-d, which contain some of Hurston's liveliest evocations of folk life, for use as models. Drawing on the folk groups you identified and explored in lesson one, and the transcription activities from lesson three, create short stories in which eye dialect, traditional narratives such as jokes or family stories, and other aspects of oral tradition figure prominently. You may find it helpful to do some "ethnographic spying," interviewing or listening to your family or friends with tape recorder and/or notebook in hand to record credible and accurate details of folk speech.