Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


College of Humanities and Social Sciences



Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Laura Nicosia

Committee Member

Rita Jacobs

Committee Member

Dan Bronson


Zora Neale Hurston and Kate Chopin lived and wrote in different eras, but each woman was ahead of her time in terms of her depiction of women s roles and responsibilities in the patriarchal societies in which she lived. Due to the similarities in the feminist themes depicted by the female protagonists in Hurston s Their Eyes Were Watching God and Chopin’s The Awakening, this paper will trace the beginnings of a distinctly feminist voice emerging through these two works. Hurston’s portrayal of Janie’s journey to achieve autonomy represents the empowerment of the nascent African- American female voice within the period of the early 20th century. Similarly, Chopin's Edna, a white Southern woman in the late 19th century, portrays the journey from repression to self-expression in New Orleans upper-crust Creole society.

Both authors chart a course of self-discovery and growth in their female protagonists that lays a foundation for future feminist writers. Ironically, even though Hurston and Chopin received harsh criticism after publishing these two novels and were essentially forgotten by the literary world for decades, today they are credited with contributing significantly to American feminist writing in the 19th and 20th centuries. However, neither Hurston nor Chopin can be read as representing all Southern women or even all Southern black and white women. Instead, they give voice to two very different women, from opposite sides of the segregated South, who both evolve from subservient, silenced, watchers of life into full participants by claiming their intellectual, emotional, and sexual powers of expression. Despite being from different races and geographical locations, with vastly different life experiences, Hurston and Chopin both characterize the “emergence of feminist literary study” in the 1970s and provide a female alternative to the male-dominated” literary canon (Robinson 157).

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