The author is clearly conversant with the geography of Florida and makes a strong case for the necessity of considering it as a strong thematic factor in Their Eyes Were Watching God. The background on the difference between the violent, slavery-associated Panhandle and the central part of Florida is something that most readers would not know. In addition to the overall information, the argument that Janie follows the rivers with her husbands and that those waterways comprise routes to freedom for her is convincing. This subject matter is valuable in that it links two pieces of the naturalist puzzle not always discussed: geography and African American writers of naturalism.
—Reader 1, anonymous peer review
This paper makes a connection between geographical concerns and naturalism – it features a regionalist approach closely focused on actual natural and geographical specifics having to do with the panhandle of Florida and their relation to Zora Neale Hurston’s novel. Not only does this essay deal with what could be termed “geographical naturalism” or “eco-naturalism,” it deals with an African-American female writer. These are little-explored areas of naturalism.
—Reader 2, anonymous peer review
Zora Neale Hurston set Their Eyes Were Watching God in Florida, the only possible setting. Hurston, whose transcendent childhood in central Florida informs the novel, has her protagonist Janie encounter ecological exuberance under a pear tree—defining Janie’s vision of marriage and determining the course of her life. Florida geography is crucial in two respects: the state’s proximity to past violence and its own waterways. Hurston has Janie escape violent legacies of slavery and Jim Crow in the panhandle to the relative freedom of the peninsula, which once connected to Africa and thus may possess positive associations for black residents. Hurston’s narrator deterministically declares in the novel’s opening lines men follow horizons and women do what they must to realize their dreams. Thus, in order to realize her ecological pear-tree dream, Janie follows horizon-seeking men across Florida waterways, which Hurston uses as a blueprint for the novel’s plot: Janie flees the panhandle and an arranged marriage to follow a second husband to the lakes of central Florida; follows a less-abusive third husband up the north-flowing St. Johns and down the south-flowing Kissimmee; and walks alone along the Indian River Lagoon back to Eatonville, free from oppressive memories and husbands.