A Quest For Autonomy in Their Eyes Were Watching God

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SWBAT begin to track the development of a central idea in the novel, autonomy, by keeping a list of quotes that reveal the main character’s quest for autonomy.

Big Idea

Janie's quest for autonomy begins now


Today we are back from a long weekend because of a holiday. This means that students have likely not thought about Their Eyes Were Watching God for three entire days. In the previous lesson, students listened to an audio recording of Chapter 1. Today, we tackle the next couple of chapters. The audio recording in the previous lesson was meant to give students a clear sense of how the vernacular was supposed to be read. Today, I need them to make the leap on their own as they read.  

Pre-Reading Activity

15 minutes

Zora Neale Hurston’s use of the vernacular poses challenges for students in terms of accessing the text. However, they just need to get used to the language and then the reading will flow nicely, the way it is supposed to. To help students get used to reading the vernacular on their own, I give them this worksheet focusing on the vernacular in chapter 1, page 1 and page 2. The worksheet is pretty straight-forward. Students simply need to replace the vernacular with Standard English. To make it crystal clear, we work on the first sentence together. The worksheet has fifteen sentences, but these would take a good amount of time and I don’t believe it is necessary for students to work on all of them. I assign half of them and leave it up to students to decide which ones they want to work on. My hope is that this quick activity helps them get used to reading the dialogue in the novel. I give them time to work on this and ask them to turn it in.

Introducing A Central Concept In This Novel

15 minutes

One central idea I plan to focus this unit on is the concept of autonomy. We have discussed this concept earlier in the year in a previous lesson about social criticism theory so students are familiar with it. However, this was way back towards the beginning of the school year so I need to give students a quick refresher. This is the definition of Autonomy I have posted on a wall. From this definition, I highlight that autonomy refers to the following:

  • Self governing
  • Self-directing freedom
  • Moral independence

I have these three bullet points rewritten on a separate poster and I have posted it on another wall. It may appear repetitive to do this, but I do it to establish a visual connection between all these concepts we have discussed in class this year. You can get a sense of this visual connection in this video.

Once I refresh their memory of the definition of autonomy, I move on to explain that autonomy is a central idea in Their Eyes Were Watching God and that we will be discussing this idea throughout our reading of the novel. Specifically, I let students know that our main character is going to embark on a quest for autonomy and we are going to track this quest in different ways. The first is simply by collecting quotes that say something about Janie’s, the main character, quest for autonomy. To do this, I ask students to take out a piece of paper and title it “Powerful Quotes in TEWWG” and to use it to keep track of powerful words/phrases/sentences from the novel that reveal something about Janie’s quest for Autonomy. I tell them that they will be working on this list as they read so that they should fold this paper and keep it in their copy of the novel, which can work as their bookmark. I instruct them to get started on this list when they go on to read chapter 2 and 3. One point of confusion is the fact that Janie does not have much autonomy at the beginning of the story. Some students will confuse the task and think that all the quotes on this list must speak of Janie having full autonomy. Students who are confused by this ask me what they could possibly add to their list. I have to clarify that a quest for autonomy is not a straight path, meaning that people like Janie will go through periods of more or less autonomy and that to track her quest means we pay attention to instances when she gains autonomy as well as instances when she loses or lacks autonomy. This makes sense to them. Eventually, I want this page to look like this student’s list of quotes.

Independent Reading

20 minutes

I know that students have a difficult time finding a quiet time at home to get reading done so I try to give them time during class. Today, I give them the rest of the period to read as much of chapter 2 and 3 as they can. Whatever they don’t finish in class will be for homework. I do ask them to make mental notes of anything they find confusing in the story because I will give them time in class tomorrow to get help clarifying what they found confusing.