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Life on the Horizon: Reoccurring Themes in African-American Literature

[By Goyland Williams]
As I stated in a previous blog post, studying trends in the “100 Novels Collection” reveals useful ways for understanding African-American literature. Looking at prominent characters in Jean Toomer’s Cane, and Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, reveals some glaring similarities that are frequently present in African-American literature.       

Cane (Karintha)
She is the object of affection by older men:
  • “Men had always wanted her, this Karintha, even as a child” (3).
 Her sexuality is associated with nature:
  • “This interest of the male, who wishes to ripen a growing thing too soon, could mean no good to her.” 
References to a horizon:
  • “Her skin is like dusk on the eastern horizon, O can’t you see it, O can’t you see it, Her skin is like dusk on the eastern horizon, . . .When the sun goes down” (3).

Their Eyes Were Watching God (Janie)
She is the object of affection by older men:
  • “Somebody done spoke to me ‘bout you long time ago. Ah ain’t said nothin’ ‘cause dat wasn’t de way Ah placed you. Ah wanted yuh to school out and pick from a higher bush and a sweeter berry” (13).
 Her sexuality is associated with nature:
  • “Oh to be a pear tree-any tree in bloom” (11)!
References to a horizon:
  • “Nanny had taken the biggest thing God ever made, the horizon-for no matter how far a person can go the horizon is still way beyond you” (89).