Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
It’s early 1900s in rural West Florida and Janie Crawford is a light-skinned African American sixteen year old when we first meet her. She lives with her grandmother, who has some very definite ideas about how Janie should live her life, and this includes whom Janie should marry. Over the years, and over the course of two marriages, we see Janie grow up and struggle to come into her own. It’s only during her third marriage to the charismatic, adventurous Tea Cake that we see Janie finally grow and thrive as an active participant in her own life.
I finished this book several days ago and decided to let the story marinate in my mind before I wrote my thoughts. I knew I loved Their Eyes Were Watching God, but I just wanted to be sure that I understood why I loved it.
At the heart of this beautiful, tender, gripping novel is the story of a young woman who is not at all content living someone else’s life, yet readers are given small glimpses of the strong, intelligent woman Janie truly is. To me, Janie’s life mirrors some of the struggles that so many women face in life. The author’s use of symbolism in her prose to describe the differences and similarities between men and women is nothing short of poetry.
I know that many readers have found the vernacular dialect in Their Eyes difficult, if not almost impossible, to read and understand. While it did slow me down somewhat, I do think it was a brilliant way for the author to tell the story in two distinctly separate voices. I urge anyone who has given up on the book for this reason to try again. It really doesn’t take long to begin to understand the slang and regional dialect and it is so worth the little added effort.
The story begins shortly after Emancipation and the author doesn’t shy away from broaching the topic of race and equality. The author is an expert at subtly weaving the topic of racism within the book’s passages. Mrs. Turner’s racism against darker skinned blacks and Nanny’s rape are just two examples. Yet race is not the main topic in Their Eyes. The book focuses much more on gender inequality, Janie, and her life as an African-American woman living in the South during that time. This is an important, timeless classic. I’d encourage anyone to read it.
5 of 5 Stars, Review by Susan Barton