When Zadie Smith was first given a copy of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, she was reluctant to read it. But once she did, she found herself captivated by the beauty protagonist Janie Crawford is seeking and encountering throughout the novel. Later in Smith’s own novel On Beauty the protagonist Howard Belsey becomes the inverse of Janie as he intellectually rejects the idea of beauty and ignores the encounters he has with it. Thus while Janie finds that beauty decenters her from thinking herself the center of her world, Howard stubbornly refuses to allow himself to be decentered; so Janie is able to distribute beauty to those around her but Howard is unable to even feel it himself.
Dundas, Jessica, "Seeking the Tomato: Encounters with Beauty in Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God and Zadie Smith's On Beauty" (2020). English Department: Student Scholarship. 7.