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Example research essay topic: Zora Neale Hurston Modern Critical Interpretations - 1,873 words

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... first confrontation with Joe, she declares that Ah knows uh few things, and womenfolks thinks sometimes too! (Hurston 67). No longer will she tolerate being looked down upon by a man; she strives to be seen as an equal. Her vision of Joe bringing change to her life has been dashed as her image of Jody down and shattered (Hurston 68). Dominance will not conquer her now because she has been confronted by her desires. She comes to terms that she had an inside and an outside now and suddenly she knew how not to mix them (Hurston 68).

She has found her own identity. After Joes death, independent for the first time in her life, she exults in the freedom feeling (Wall 387). Janie feels ready to disobey Joes rules and live freely, however, [s]he cannot claim her autonomy, because she is not yet capable of imagining herself except in relationship to a man (Wall 387). Edna does not need death to free her from the role of a wife of a prosperous man and uses her own initiative to finally sever her relationship with Leone. He is described as a rather courteous husband so long as he met a certain tacit submissiveness in his wife. But her new and unexpected line of conduct completely bewildered him.

It shocked him. Then, her absolute disregard for her duties as a wife angered him. When Mr. Pontellier became rude, Edna grew insolent. She had resolved never to take another step backward. (Chopin 95) Hence, she is now determined to achieve complete emancipation. During these times, women rarely emerged from behind the mother-woman mask (Chopin 16).

Men directed, and women remained submissive. Now, Edna and Janie are no longer one of [their husbands] possessions to dispose of or not (Chopin 178). They evolve as individuals and are prepared to continue their quest for self-determination. The symbolism of the bird and the pear tree continues to evolve to reflect the metamorphoses of Edna and Janie. The bird, once warning Edna to leave, now greets her in song.

Edna has inhaled the breath of freedom as she experiences her first steps outside of the cage. Filled with confidence, she can embark on a journey of flight. Like a young bird, she must find assistance to direct her in the right path and allow her to spread her wings. The tree, once barren, is preparing to bloom in the spring. Janie now finds herself in the springtime of life and needs only to be watered by someone to flourish and flower. Janie has strong roots and a solid foundation that propel her on her course to freedom.

With the help of two new relationships, Edna and Janie progress towards liberation. Although experiencing true equality is not possible, through Edna and Janie's relationships with Robert Leburn and Vergible Tea Cake Woods, respectively, the roles of dominance are shared. Robert and Tea Cake are an alternative definition of manhood, one that does not rely on external manifestations of power, money, and position (Wall. 388). These new lovers are the antithesis of their previous perceptions of men. From the beginning of Edna and Roberts relationship, he lived in her shadow (Chopin 20). Ready to obey her commands, Robert demurs to Edna's requests.

She directs him towards her needs and tells him when to come; go; stand up; sit down; do this; do that; so that he knows she has control (Chopin 21). He holds some control too though, over her mind. Her mind becomes blocked under the spell of her infatuation. [... ] it was his being, his existence which dominated her thought, fading sometimes as if it would melt into the mist of the forgotten, reviving again with an intensity which filled her with an incomprehensible longing (Chopin 90). Although Robert accepts her as an equal, Edna feels some submissiveness due to her obsession for him.

She knows she will do anything to be in his arms. Infatuation also absorbs Janie's mind as she encounters Tea Cake, a man who confirms Janie's right to self-expression and invites her to share equally in their adventures (Wall 388). Janie is no longer restricted because of her sex. Kubischek explains that their relationship rejects ordinary conceptions of dominant and subordinate sex roles. Tea Cake is Janie's companion on her quest, not her master or mentor (25). No one delegates responsibilities to the other because they look upon each other as a partner for life, which was Janie's initial view of marriage.

Unlike in her last relationships, chores are not designated by sex, but shared. It is evident that the adjustment involves more than Janie's expansion into previously male roles: Just as she works beside Tea Cake in the fields, he helps prepare supper (Kubischek 25). By partaking in a joint union, Janie is finally able to view herself as an equal and is no longer ashamed of being a woman. She, too, is succumbed with a self-crushing love for him; a love that causes her soul [to crawl] out from its hiding place to be free (Hurston 122). In these relationships, Edna and Janie trust emotion over intellect, value the spiritual over the material, preserve a sense of humor and are comfortable with their sensuality (Wall 388). Edna and Janie find a part of themselves in Robert and Tea Cake.

They discover avenues towards emancipation and self-assessment. Despite the apparent success of their latest relationships, Edna and Janie are ultimately doomed by too much dependence on a love that does not last. Edna loses herself in her dreams about Robert, for dreams are the place, the only place, where romance can exist (Dyer 79). She continues to fantasize and reflects on tender memories when apart; the distance between her and Robert only makes her heart grow fonder. Dyer suggests, Edna has momentarily forgotten the lesson she learned at Madame Antoine's: an awakening can not be brought about by another, but only by oneself (80).

No matter how much desire she feels for Robert, only he can direct the course of his emotions. Dyer goes on to imply that the dream can no longer be so easily re-created; it can be recalled only in a sort of stupor. And the conclusion of the dream is cynicism, not hope and joy and exultation. Edna is coming to know, of course, that romance can only be dreamed, not lived (81). In spite of the truth, Edna goes on to believe in her ideal man and romantic love. Romance only offers her temporary dependency, which is supported by the imagery of Edna and Robert leaning toward each other as the water oaks bent from the sea.

There was not a particle of earth beneath their feet (Chopin 37). There is no stability or foundation in their relationship, which indirectly leads to her undoing. Unrealistically, the sensitive but conventional Robert Leburn becomes for Edna the embodiment of ideal and romantic love, her beloved one (74). He is a vision that evokes in her the belief that she is living for something. Like Edna, Janie envisions Tea Cake as an ideal man. In her opinion, she couldnt make him look just like any other man to her.

He looked like the love thoughts of women. He could be a bee to a blossom pear tree blossom in the spring. He seemed to be crushing scent out of the world with his footsteps. [... ] He was a glance from God (Hurston 101). In her eyes, he represents everything she wishes to become. He is self-determined and free.

Tea Cake is the purposeful, self-reliant, industrious, and courageous wanderer as an ideal man type. Theoretically he was complemented by the ideal woman, his strong supportive spouse who could assume an independent and self-reliant role herself if the situation required it (Kilson 21). Janie and Tea Cake mirror one another in their actions, devotion, and courage. By learning and working with Tea Cake, Janie has explored the soul of her culture and learned how to value herself (Wall 388 - 89). It is this self-value that allows Janie to free herself from the yolk of male domination. These final relationships that Edna and Janie have entered into expose them to emotions and awakenings that they were denied in their previous experiences.

Their quests for self-determination have ended. The bird now soars in the air with its wings entirely stretched and the pear tree is in full bloom. Edna escapes from society's views and mans control and lives for a moment above the rest. She relishes in ecstasy with the feeling of love. Janie has been watered with love and is experiencing daylight for the first time. As she soaks in life, she has finally been awakened and is free.

But a bird must always alight and a tree is subject to the changing of seasons. Even though death intervenes, Edna and Janie triumph and proceed through their final phase of evolution in male dominance. Edna returns to the comfort of the ocean, the environment in which she experienced her initial awakening. Again, she swims far out, but this time does not return. Going out into the sea, she feels like some new-born creature, opening its eyes in a familiar world it had never known (Chopin 189). Her soul is awakened and she drowns as a liberation from the cage of marriage, societies rules, and family (Wyatt 3).

Janie's liberation is sadly achieved with the death of Tea Cake, but it teaches her a salient lesson. Returning to the town where Janie established a foundation for her identity, she brings back to her community, that self-fulfillment rather than security and status is the gift of life (Christian 59). She accepts her fate and is now content to be on her own as she continues with her life. Edna and Janie harbor a strong desire to be independent and thought of as individuals without regard to gender. They both possessed the self-determination that was necessary to overcome the male dominance that they experienced on a personal level and in society as well. Because of their persistent drive, each woman finally attained the freedom they so sincerely sought.

Bibliography: Works Cited Bloom, Harold, ed. Modern Critical Interpretations: Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York: Chelsea, 1987. Chopin, Kate. The Awakening. New York: Avon, 1972.

Christian, Barbara. Black Women Novelists: The Development of a Tradition, 1892 - 1976. Connecticut: Greenwood, 1980. Dyer, Joyce. The Awakening: A Novel of Beginnings. New York: Twayne, 1993.

Fleischmann, Fritz, ed. American novelists Revisited: Essays in feminist Criticism. Boston: Hall, 1982. Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York: Harper, 1937.

Kubischek, Missy Dehn. Tuh de Horizon and Back: The Female Quest in Their Eyes Were Watching God. Modern Critical Interpretations: Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. Ed.

Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea, 1987. 19 - 33. Masturzo, Sharon. A Guide to Internet Resources for Kate Chopin's The Awakening (1899). University of South Florida. 14 Feb. 2000. Wall, Cheryl A.

Zora Neale Hurston: Changing Her Own Words. American Novelists Revisited: Essays in Feminist Criticism. Ed. Fritz Fleischmann. Boston: Hall, 1982. 371 - 92.

Wyatt, Neal. Women Writers. Virginia Commonwealth University. 18 Feb. 2000.


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