Why teach Their Eyes Were Watching God?

Often taught in the United States, but more seldom in Canada, Their Eyes Were Watching God is the best-known novel of Zora Neale Hurston, likely the most successful female African-American author of the 20th century and a cataloguer of African-American and Caribbean folklore. Hurston’s story is remarkable in its own right, and a brief overview of her life is included with this guide. She paved the way for many Black and female authors.

Their Eyes Were Watching God is a story about finding out what it’s like to live and to love for yourself, about freedom, and about nonconformity and success. The book offers opportunities to talk about historical events and their parallels in Canada and about what it means to be free.

The strong female character, who thrives despite all of the hardship through which she lives, may be a role model for young women, or she may not. Squaring the violence in her relationships with her independence is the subject of many debates. But there is no doubt she is an engaging protagonist.

With dialogue written in phonetic Southern English and the remainder of the story in graphic, beautiful prose, Their Eyes Were Watching God is especially well-suited to reading in the classroom and to pairing with Socratic dialogue and collaborative learning among students.


Their Eyes Were Watching God Study Guide

Exercise Sheets

Chapter 1–5 Exercises

Chapter 6–9 Exercises

Chapter 10–16 Exercises

Chapter 17–20 Exercises


Zora Neale Hurston and Mary Ann Shadd

About Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston – Timeline of the Life of Zora Neale Hurston

Mary Ann Shadd Cary- Abolitionist – Under a Northern Star (Library and Archives Canada)

Heritage Minute: Mary Ann Shadd


Black communities in Canada and the U.S.

(Eatonville) In a Town Apart, the Pride and Trials of Black Life – The New York Times

Black Bottom Neighborhood _ Detroit Historical Society

The Elgin Settlement – Buxton, Ontario

Africville – The Canadian Encyclopedia

Settlements in Canada: Underground Railroad (PBS)

Website: Black Settlement in early Canada


What it means to be free

Viola Desmond – The Canadian Encyclopedia

YouTube: The Long Road to Justice: The Viola Demond Story (44 minutes, full documentary)

Having Dinner with North Korea’s Celebrity Defector

Martin Luther King, Jr: I have a dream

Quotes by Nellie McClung:

Zora Neale Hurston – How it Feels to be Colored Me



Excerpt from “Seeing the World As It Is”, an Appendix to Dust Tracks On a Road

Excerpt from Chapter 9 of Dust Tracks On A Road

Excerpt from Chapter 12 of Dust Tracks On A Road


Coastal Disasters in Canada

Florida’s forgotten storm_ The Hurricane of 1928 (Sun Sentinel)

The 1929 Grand Banks Earthquake and Tsunami

The forgotten storm- 1775 Newfoundland Hurricane