Their Eyes Were Watching God, a Feminist Novel

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SWBAT analyze central ideas in an early-twentieth-century foundational work of American literature, Their Eyes Were Watching God, by collaborating and creating a graphic organizer. SWBAT present ideas discussed and support these with textual evidence.

Big Idea

Taking a bird’s eye view of a text to further understand its everlasting power in American literature.


Students were introduced to feminist theory in an earlier lesson. It was a broad overview of the theory. They basically learned enough to get a sense of what feminism means and a set of concepts they can apply to texts. They also had an opportunity to apply these concepts to a children’s story. Today, they will apply concepts of feminist theory to Their Eyes Were Watching God

Identify What Makes Their Eyes Were Watching God a Feminist Novel

25 minutes

I open by telling students that today they will be applying feminist theory to Their Eyes Were Watching God. I ask students to take out their higlighted handout of notes on feminism, which was produced in an earlier lesson. I remind them that the day before, we engaged with the concept of autonomy and I let them know that we will be discussing how autonomy and feminism are related but that before we do that, we need to identify how this novel may qualify as a feminist novel.

I ask students to create a three-column chart to explain the specific aspects of the novel that qualify it as a feminist text. The three columns have the following titles:

1.Feminist Concept

2.Specific Evidence from Their Eyes Were Watching God

3.Analysis, Why is this an example of the feminist concept?

I remind them of the guidelines regarding what makes a text a feminist text, which I gave them when they were introduced to Feminist theory. These are posted on the board.

The text is a Feminist text if:

  • Addresses any concept of Feminist theory
  • Criticizes Sexism
  • Portrays any challenge to sexism in a positive light
  • Suggest a desire and a vision for a future where women are equal to men 

I collaborate with students to come up with a model example. I do this by creating the three-column chart on the board, the same one they have created on their paper. I ask students to identify one concept from the feminist theory handout that applies to the novel. I write it in the first column. I then ask them to come up with a specific example from the text that illustrates this concept. I write this one on the second column. For this column, I want students to quote directly, not to paraphrase. They need practice with the skill of pulling direct quotes and referring to the author’s language as they analyze. If they paraphrase, too many are tempted to vaguely capture what the author is trying to say, which only leads to weak analysis. For the third column, I ask students to think of the language we just copied in the middle column and to explain how this example suggests a feminist/sexist concept. I ask them to make use of the “Verbs that help in Analysis" chart that we have been using since early this year. Several students contribute different ideas to this column and I guide them to choose the best analytical sentences. I am the one doing the writing on the board and I give myself the freedom to write something, delete it when someone else suggests something better, reword, swap sentences, etc. This frustrates many students and I expect this. I actually take advantage of these opportunities to address the importance of editing. I tell them that what I am doing is not a sign of a bad writer. It’s the exact opposite. I restate a fact that I have been trying to instill in their mind, that good writers repeatedly change their work for the purpose of making it better, that brilliant writing seldom comes out on the first try. They hear me. I hope they get it and are one step closer to being convinced of the value of editing. I also know I will be giving a similar speech several more times before the end of the school year. After we finally have two analytical sentences we are all happy with, it turns out that we have to edit what we wrote in the first column. This is a video of what we did to edit this model chart applying feminism to novel. Students did not groan about having to edit this part. I hope that means my earlier message sunk in a bit more. 


25 minutes

Once this model is finished, I ask students if they have any questions about this process and clarify any confusion. The process is pretty clear. I then ask students to work with the group they sit with to identify one more concept, specific textual evidence that supports this, and analyze how this evidence is an example of a feminist/sexist concept identified. As I walk around and look over their shoulders as they work, I notice that the majority has identified examples of “gender roles.” This is the easiest concept to identify so I make a general announcement, “Don’t stay at the lower level of thinking. Gender roles is probably the easiest to write about. Try applying the new terms you learned, such as patriarchy and misogyny.” This encourages some to try something different.

I then ask students to work individually to identify another specific example from the text that fits into this chart and to write the explanation on their own. The idea is that at this point, students saw me model this activity, they collaborated with their small group to add one more piece of evidence to their chart, and they are now ready to individually show whether they understand the concepts taught in this lesson. This turns out to be quite challenging for them. This becomes very clear when too many of them get off task. I address this by sharing this observation with them and asking why they are so off task. Most just look at me, but a couple are able to groan, “Cause this is hard.” This lets me know that in the face of a very challenging task, they have defaulted to freezing and just waiting for the bell to ring to avoid the task of figuring out how to get this done. I have to give them a brief lecture on the importance of doing the opposite of this, which is to push themselves harder and use each other and use me to find solutions and actually get the work done. Choosing not to do work that is challenging is not a good option. I direct them all to get back to work and to make sure they ask each other questions and that they ask me questions along the way. This takes us through the end of the period. I ask students to turn in their chart once they are done. Several were not able to finish the third example on this chart, but I want to see what they came up with to address problems tomorrow.