At first glance, the novels Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat and Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston do not seem to have much in common. However, with a little bit of deep diving into the text, one can easily see some very similar themes and ideas between the two novels. Both novels put a heavy emphasis on the traditions of the main characters’ backgrounds, but also the journey of the main characters to shed those traditions.
The emphasis on the traditions of the main character’s heritages is easy to see in both novels. In Breath, Eyes, Memory, many of the events, often horrifying things, which happen to the main character Sophie are a direct result of the traditions of Haiti, where her family is from. A good example of this is when Sophie questions why her mother did some of the strange and sometimes horrible things that happened to her as a young girl. “’I did it," she said, "Because my mother had done it to me. I have no greater excuse’” (Danticat, 1994). The only reason she gets is that it is the way it has always been. That is a clear example of tradition in the novel. In Their Eyes Were Watching God, the main character Janie experiences the same thing. Her grandmother wants to marry off Janie right away when she kisses a man (Hurston, 2006). This shows a deep root in the old traditions and beliefs of her ancestors. While some of the time these traditions help to define the characters, most of the time these traditions hinder the character and provide obstacles that they need to overcome.
This is another theme we see in common with these two novels. Sophie and Janie both struggle against their pasts and the traditions of their ancestors in order to discover what their true identities are. In Breath, Eyes, Memory, Sophie does not become a complete individual until she tries to break free from the traditions of her ancestors. She does everything that her mother would disapprove of from living with a man to homosexuality. All the while she is put with the question “’Ou libere? Are you free my daughter?’” (Danticat, 1994). She seems to not know the answer till after her mother dies. Likewise, in Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie doesn’t know who she is until she has tried everything. “‘So Ah’m back home agin and Ah’m satisfied tuh be heah. Ah done been tuh de horizon and back and now Ah kin set heah in mah house and live by comparisons’” (Hurston, 2006). Janie realizes that her experiences while trying to break tradition have made her who she is today.
In conclusion, while these two novels come from two very different people, their themes are very similar. The idea of tradition and breaking the mold are ideas that drive us as people today as well. Almost every action we take is following a tradition or breaking one. It is interesting to see how the traditions in these two characters’ lives affect the outcome of who they are.
Danticat, E. (1994). Breath, Eyes, Memory. New York, New York: Vintage Contemporaries .
Hurston, Z. N. (2006). Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York, New York: HarperCollins.