Hues, Tresses, and Dresses: Examining the Relation of Body Image, Hair, and Clothes to Female Identity in Their Eyes Were Watching God and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings


Alisha Castaneda

Publication Date

January 2009

Document Type



English Language and Literature


Dr. Prior was a reader on the committee for this thesis.


Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God and Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings convey powerful relations between body image, hair, and clothes. Because a proper understanding of the theory of womanism provides a basis for comprehending the African American female's relation to herself and the world around her, a working definition and description of the term and its general significance to African American critical theory is provided in chapter two. The third chapter focuses on the general topic of body image in relation to black female identity and includes a more specific analysis of the importance of skin tone in African American culture, as evidenced in both novels, and the influence of hair in African American culture and the black female's self-image are the principal focus of the fourth chapter. The importance of skin tone and hair is traced back to early African culture and ideals established during the slave trade. Janie and Marguerite battle body image and hair issues that result from the racism African American women encounter from Whites, as well as the hierarchical racism existent within the black community. Additionally, the fifth chapter of this study considers clothing as a form of status and self-expression in each novel. This textual analysis researches the layers of black female identity and enhances the academic world's understanding of African American women from a literary perspective.