Option 1: Write a short story or the first chapter of a novel with a contemporary version of Janie or Gatsby as the main character. What kind of setting or context would they find themselves in? What challenges would they confront? How would their personality take shape in response to our contemporary social and political context? If you choose this option, please try to use a similar narrative perspective to the one employed by either Hurston or Fitzgerald and focus on depicting just a few carefully described situations or scenes.
Option 2: Consider how either Their Eyes Were Watching God or The Great Gatsby resonates with your experiences as a twenty-first century New Yorker. Have you been in a situation similar to the one described by the author? Have you faced the same kinds of challenges? Have you found yourself viewing the world in the same way as one of the characters or the narrator? How have your own life experiences allowed you achieve a fuller understanding of the text? How has reading the work affected your way of thinking about the problems that you have confronted in your own life? Has it offered you a new understanding or attitude, a new way of addressing particular obstacles? Has it influenced the way you feel about a particular situation? If so, how? Please try to come up with a specific concrete example from your life. You will need to offer a first-person account of your own experience so as to explore how the text is relevant to that experience. Your paper, in other words, should combine an analysis of the text with a personal narrative and explore the connections between the two. 3-5 pgs., double-spaced.
Option 3: Pick 2-3 key scenes in the book and imagine what songs you would play if you were including those scenes in a film. Create a soundtrack. Justify your choice of songs by explaining how you understand the mood of the particular scenes you are focusing on. How would these particular songs help bring out and reinforce the feelings that the author is either depicting or seeking to evoke in readers? You can pick anywhere from 2-5 songs. Make sure you include links to them. You should write an introductory paragraph identifying which scenes from the text you are focusing on, why you have chosen those scenes, and what overall emotional effect you are seeking to capture. Then you should offer a paragraph or two for each song explaining why you have chosen it. 3-5 pages, double-spaced.
Option 4: Record yourself reading a passage or several passages from the text. You may accompany your reading with music or visuals of any kind. You can perform the scene, acting out the parts if you’d like. You can find or create other multi-modal materials, including images, video clips, songs, etc. If you pick this option, you’ll need to submit a recording of your reading with all of the visuals and sounds included, in the form of a podcast or short film. You will also need to include a 1-2 page discussion of the choices you made and why you made them, with an emphasis on the particular ideas or feelings (conveyed by the text) that you were seeking to underscore.
Option 5: Write a traditional (3-5 page, double-spaced) academic essay about either Their Eyes Were Watching God or The Great Gatsby in response to one of the prompts provided below. You can also design your own question and answer it.
1. About Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, fellow African American novelist Richard Wright, commented:
Miss Hurston voluntarily continues in her novel the tradition which was forced upon the Negro in the theatre, that is, the minstrel technique that makes the “white folks” laugh. Her characters eat and laugh and cry and work and kill; they swing like a pendulum eternally in that safe and narrow orbit in which America likes to see the Negro live: between laughter and tears.
Would you agree with this evaluation? Why or why not? Wright also stated that Hurston’s novel lacks a basic idea or theme. Does this strike you as a fair response? If you disagree with Wright and believe that Their Eyes Were Watching God is a serious novel, what makes it serious?
2. In Their Eyes Were Watching God, does Janie, the protagonist, gain freedom and agency by the end of the book? If so, how is she able to gain these things? What obstacles does she face as a black woman living in the United States in the early 20th century and how is she able to overcome these obstacles? Does Hurston offer a recipe for black female empowerment in this novel? If so, what is she advocating?What allows Janie to achieve fulfillment? What does that fulfillment consist of?
3. According to Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of The New Republic, “What most people don’t understand is that the adjective ‘Great’ in the title was meant laconically. There’s nothing genuinely great about Gatsby. He’s a poignant phony. Owing to the money-addled society we live in, people have lost the irony of Fitzgerald’s title. So the movies [of The Great Gatsby] become complicit in the excessively materialistic culture that the novel set out to criticize.” Do you agree with Wieseltier’s assessment? Does Fitzgerald mean “great” to be taken ironically? If so, what exactly in modern American society is he satirizing? Or does Fitzgerald suggest that there is something great about Gatsby? If so, what is it? If so, is Gatsby a reflection of certain tendencies in 20th-century America? What are those tendencies? And what is great about them?
4. Focusing on either Their Eyes Were Watching God or The Great Gatsby, explain whether you think his/her work espouses a feminist or an anti-feminist stance. Does the text appear to celebrate those actions which further independence and empowerment for women? What kind of depiction does it offer of its female characters?
5. Again, focusing on either Their Eyes Were Watching God or The Great Gatsby, what makes that author’s text modern? How does the text demonstrate an awareness of the newness, the novelty, of its historical moment? Does the text break with tradition? How so? In answering this question, please consider both the themes explored and the styles employed by the author in question.
3-5 pgs, double-spaced