Flashback Writing Technique in 'Their Eyes Were Watching God'

A story sometimes begins with an ending. You see the result before knowing the cause. In ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’, this a technique used to introduce the reader to the main character, Janie. Starting with the end leads into a flashback on Janie’s life. Flashbacks provide the cause for the effect.

Flashbacks are used to give a first person point of view on an event that has already happened to a character. An example of a flashback is the ballad, ‘A Cruel Mother. In this the mother looks back on her child’s birth, life, and death. The different about the flashback in ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ is that the flashbacks are in third person point of view. By having it this way, you don’t get to see one specific character’s point of view. This allows for an overview of the overall event.

For some people the beginning of the ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ might be a bit confusing. As George Stevens of The Saturday Review of Literature had stated, ‘....it begins awkwardly with a confusing and unnecessary preview of the end…..’. Some people might find it a bit confusing but it gives the reader a lead to the flashback. It is also a way to show what people thought of Janie’s decisions and the flashback gives the explanation.

Events form people’s opinion around a certain thing. When the neighbors see Janie walking back to her house in the first chapter, they start to criticize her because of her choices. Those choices are pulled out of context until we are given a look back into Janie’s life, “Naw, ‘tain’t nothin’ lak you might think. So ‘tain’t no use in me telling you somethin’ unless Ah give you de understandin’ to go ‘long wid it.” Janie’s choices and motivation are unknown to the reader when you first start to read. Flashback allows the motivation to slowly be shown and allows us to see what decisions Janie made in her life.

In ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ not even some of the characters knew the entire story. They just knew Janie off of the decisions she made while she was around them, but those decisions were influenced by events further in her past. “Ah know exactly what Ah git to tell yuh, but it’s hard to know where to start at.” When Janie tries to explain herself, she is not sure where to start for people  to be able to understand her basis for all decisions. She knew people didn’t understand and that they were judge  her for that and in order to explain there was a point in her life when she learned a lesson and used that lesson throughout her life.

Coming home, the only person who seems to want to understand Janie is her friend Pheoby. The other women in the town gossip about what she had down, running away with a younger man. On the other hand Pheoby knows that there are probably reasons and just because Janie isn’t telling anymore it doesn’t mean there aren’t any. “It’s hard for me to understand what you mean, de way you tell it. And then again Ah’m hard of understanding’ at times.” When Janie gives an explanation of why she is gone so long, it doesn’t make as much sense until Janie goes further back into her past.

Flashbacks give imagery to a book. Without them, we can only see the effects instead of the reasons. Sometimes a flashback not only helps the reader but the character as well. ‘Thier Eyes Were Watching God’ is a perfect example of that. We are shown characters in the first chapter who only saw the effects of Janie’s decisions and never the intentions. In order for them to fully see Janie and understand her, Janie has to go further in her life to give those intentions that they are missing from the overall full story. In explaining to the characters, she is also explaining through the reader. Thus the characters are discovering a new side to Janie at the same time that the reader is.


Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God: A Novel. New York: Perennial Library, 1990. Print.

"Hurston Reviews." Hurston Reviews. Web. 12 Jan. 2015. <http://people.virginia.edu/~sfr/enam854/summer/hurston.html>.

Comments (3)

Tianna McNair (Student 2017)
Tianna McNair

Going forward I will try to use more flash backs because the are pretty cool and the help enhance the story like you mentioned in your story. I really loved this movie and I started reading the book and I enjoyed it.

Chiara Nemati (Student 2017)
Chiara Nemati

I learned that flashback can have many effects on the reader, also that it depends heavily on the context of the story if this technique will work. I think it was a great take on this specific story. I would like to use this technique in a way that provokes the reader to want to know what happened to get this effect.

Chhievling Seng (Student 2017)
Chhievling Seng

I learned that using flashback can be a way to make readers more interested, since it is only talking about the cause of an effect, so readers would be curious to know what had caused whatever it is to happen.

I would use the flashback technique, it's very unique which I had never really used before. It's used to enhance the story, it's a part of the story and makes the story what it is.