Thursday, May 09, 2013

Their Eyes Were Watching God

I've been lucky lately.  This past month, I've read some fantastic stories.  Their Eyes Were Watching God was simply amazing.  I could write/talk about this novel for hours, but I'm not going to. I'm going to try to stick to what engaged me most.

If you haven't read Their Eyes Were Watching God, why? Read it. Now. I know that the dialogue can be difficult to follow at first, but after a while, you notice that Hurston followed a pattern.  Ah = I, keer = care, skeered = scared, etc.  Not the whole book is like that either, only the dialogue, though the dialogue is important. Zora Neale Hurston creates Janie Crawford, a young black woman in the 1930s. We follow her life as she searches for who she really is and I think in the end, the Janie who sits talking with Pheoby, that's who she really is.

I have disliked a lot of introductions I've read lately, but I liked the one by Mary Helen Washington at the beginning of this edition. Yes, there are still some spoilery moments that I had to skim, but maybe it wasn't so bad because this was the second time I've read Their Eyes Were Watching God. Washington spoke not just of the story, but of Hurston's life. I think it is important to know what Hurston's struggles were when this book was published and what they continued to be after publication.  

Apparently Hurston's contemporaries were mad she wasn't writing protest literature.  That was what you did if you were a black writer in the 1930s.  I don't know if I've ever read any "protest literature". I had never heard of Richard Wright before reading the introduction to the novel.  He was the writer of the time and disliked Hurston's work.  What Hurston wrote was a novel about a part of America that people didn't get to see at the time; she wrote characters that could be real people.  She also wrote about a strong woman searching for herself, making her own choices.  Janie was unique.  Hurston wrote a feminist novel.

Minor Spoilers...

There's a scene where Janie and Mrs. Turner are speaking. Both these woman are lighter skinned and Mrs. Turner refers to the other people in their community as "black negroes" and other more derogatory terms.  She's very angry against the black negroes, she blames them for white people not accepting lighter skinned people like herself and Janie. Tea Cake is too black for Janie.  It was a very provocative scene.  

You know what it reminded me of?  An episode of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.  It was a very long time ago that I saw this episode, so I'm not completely clear on the details.  A woman, she's a friend or something of the Banks family.  She gives Ashley (played by Tatyana Ali) a brown paper bag and tells the girl that her goal should be to be lighter than the bag.  How she is supposed to achieve that, I don't know, but Ashley kept comparing her skin to the bag.  (If someone knows what episode this was or could clarify the details, I'd appreciate it.) Hurston, who wrote this novel in 1937, still speaks to modern issues.  I know Fresh Prince was a show of the 1990s, but it's not really that long ago.  It chills me to think that there could be people right now telling little girls and boys that their skin is too dark.

Okay...  Back to the novel... with vague spoilers...

Read it.  Because it makes you think.  It makes you feel for Janie and even for the people that surround her.  It makes you wonder why Janie couldn't just run her own life from the beginning and how should could stay with Jody.  It even makes you wonder why she is with Tea Cake, though he treats her better than anyone else.  Janie is intelligent and clearly beautiful.  She was a rich character that I connected with immediately.  That's what drew me into the novel more than Hurston's lovely prose or the interesting plot.  Janie was a star on the muck.


  1. Lovely review Loni. It's hard not to just gush buckets of love for this book isn't it?

    I couldn't see Tea Cake through Janie's rose-coloured glasses either, but I could appreciate how he represented all her ideas of being in love. He was what she needed to get to be the women sitting on Phoebe's porch chatting I guess.

    Here's my review too Brona's Books

    1. I definitely have buckets of love for this book!

      I think Tea Cake possibly represents an ideal for men at the time, though it would be difficult to know without research. His courtship of Janie was nice, but the afterwards "property" part of the relationship bothered me.

  2. Oh, this book! I just love it so much.

    I read "Letters From Black America" last year, which included correspondence between Hurston and Langston Hughes, and letters from Hughes to others praising her. I was so intrigued to see that they shared a deep, respectful friendship. It definitely makes me want to read more about her.

    1. Letters From Black America sounds like an interesting read. I'd love to know more about Hurston and her relationship with other writers.