Their Eyes Were Watching God: A Novel

by Zora Neale Hurston

Paper Book, 1990

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

New York : Perennial Library, 1990.

Description

Tells the story of Janie Crawford's evolving selfhood through three marriages during the 1930s in Florida.

User reviews

LibraryThing member rainpebble
Zora Neale Hurston's "Their Eyes Were Watching God" is a masterpiece. I began this book last evening and finished it this morning. I felt sad when I put it down realizing that this exquisitely gifted author had given us such a small amount of literature. And yet also, when I put it down I sat smiling with joy at the piece I had just read.
"Their Eyes Were Watching God" is basically a love story, but not. It is basically a coming of age story, but not. It is basically a story of black humanity after their liberation from slavery, but not. This book fits into no category that I know of. It is the story of a young black girl, Janie, growing up in free Western Florida and raised by her "Nanny"; her mother having run off shortly after her birth. She was the progeny of her mother and a schoolteacher who had raped her. Her grandmother raised her with a lot of love, devotion and protected her from all that she could.
When the girl came to her middle teens and became interested in the opposite sex, her grandmother arranged a marriage for her in the hopes of keeping her chaste. It was a loveless marriage to a much older man and as time went on he turned from treating her very well to expecting her to chop wood, plow and work right alongside him. When her grandmother died Janie ran off with another man who came through town and promised her the moon.
Joe Starks did indeed give Janie almost everything she could want; everything she could want but himself. He took her to a new town inhabited only by black people where he decided that they needed a mayor to run things, that they needed more property to build rental housing, that they needed a general store and a post office. And he proceeded to work his way into their hearts as he had done Janie's and he accomplished all that plus he built her a big beautiful home. As time went by she became less and less important to Joe Starks and he became more and more important to himself. Janie's heart began to turn and while she still loved him, she began to see him as he truly was.
Stark became ill and Janie nursed him until he realized that she felt contempt for him and he refused to allow her in his sick room. Others from the community came to nurse and feed him, but his illness continued to his death. He left Janie well off and she mourned for a time and then seemed content and turned all comers away. She had no interest in another man.
Then she met "Tea Cake" and the story from here on is almost pure joy. For me, this was what the book had been building up to all along, though I didn't realize it until I got here.
Hurston's words flow poetically from page to page. Her turn of a phrase is so beautiful that I found myself reading entire passages over and over again just to hear the language and phrasing. Her metaphors are wonderfully fitting to the situation in the story and the book is full of them. The book is very easily read and I highly recommend it and any of her writings.
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LibraryThing member Berly
Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston. There are several things that stand out for me, the first being the pear tree sequence; it is poetic and eloquent and one of the most beautiful erotic scenes I have ever read (puts bodice rippers to shame!). Janie “saw a dust-bearing bee sink into the sanctum of a bloom; the thousand sister-calyxes arch to meet the love embrace and the ecstatic shiver of the tree from root to tiniest branch creaming in every blossom and frothing with delight….Then Janie felt a pain remorseless sweet that left her limp and languid."

It is this ability to see the beauty in everything that is squashed by those around her. It did make me sad that Janie grew to hate her grandmother, after all she had done for her, but Janie did not know the confines of slavery and longed for new experiences and freedom, something her grandmother could not grasp.

I was amazed that our heroine, Janie, blithely walked out on her first marriage and then just up and remarried that very afternoon. Different times. I wish her first husband, Joe Washburn, had been able to communicate his feelings for her in some way. He was a cold brick on the outside. Not sure how much he cared for her, but more than he showed. Jody Starks, her second husband, was not much better. He uses Janie as a showpiece and won't let her make any real connections with the other town folk. Fortunately, Janie’s third marriage to Tea Cake was just as fulfilling as that pear tree. With him, Janie unfolds and is allowed to embrace life fully and be true to her inner nature. Mirroring this growing self-awareness and the shift from object to subject, the narrative shifts from third-person to a blend of first and third person.

Although Hurston does a masterful job with phonetic black vernacular, I had a really hard time with it and actually wished for the first time in my life that I had listened to a book rather than read it. Every time I saw "tuh" my brain froze and I had to stop and remind myself that it means "the." It really slowed the rhythm down for me. The discussion of “blackness” and the prejudice expressed by a light-skinned black woman was one of the most revealing scenes of this book. This insight into the hatred within the black community was sad and moving. This book is touted as a masterpiece of feminine and black literature and I would have to agree. I think it deserves a second reading down the road. I actually grew fonder of it as I wrote this review!
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LibraryThing member lilithcat
Janie is raised by her grandmother, who was born in slavery. Nanny loves Janie, but has her mind set on seeing her “sittin’ on porches lak the white madam", so before she dies, she arranges a marriage for Janie. But it’s one that stifles Janie’s soul, and she meets and runs off to Florida with Jody. Jody is a leader, a hard worker, a born politician, and helps build, and becomes mayor of, an all-black town in Florida. But he puts Janie in the background, and once again she is “sittin’ on porches�?. When Jody dies, he leaves her well-off, but she “aint’ grievin’ so why do Ah hafta mourn?" And then Tea Cake comes to town, a dozen years younger, dark-skinned, a gambler, a roustabout, a migrant worker, and she is off to the Everglades with him to build “no race after property and titles. Dis is uh love game". They fight through jealousy, suspicion, hurricanes, illness.

My edition of this book has an afterword by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., in which he quotes Hurston describing her dying mother: "Her mouth was slightly open, but her breathing took up so much of her strength that she could not talk. But she looked at me, or so I felt, to speak for her. She depended on me for a voice".

I think, in some respects, that sums up this book. It's about choosing how your voice is heard, how the story of your life is told. And, oh, Hurston used such language to tell it! Southern black dialect, high poetry, soaring and swooping, there's not a page, not a paragraph in this book that doesn't hold a gem. I could open it anywhere, stab my finger on the page, and say, "listen to this!!".
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LibraryThing member rosalita
I bought this book in 2014 and I don't know what took me so long to read it. Written in 1937, it's now considered a classic of African-American literature, though it got mixed reviews on publication, even from other black intellectuals, and it fell into obscurity for a long time after it was written before being re-surfaced largely due to the efforts of Alice Walker, who considered Hurston a role model when she was writing The Color Purple.

The novel tells the story of Janie, a black woman who refused to conform to the expectations of her time for women of her race and class. She married three times, and struggled to maintain her own autonomy in a world where women were supposed to take whatever their menfolk dished out. I thought the storyline was a powerful one, and I felt a great deal of sympathy for Janie, living in a time and a place that could not value her true gifts.

Much of the book's dialogue is rendered in black vernacular, and I am of two minds about it. On the one hand, it brought the voices of Janie, Tea Cake, and their friends and neighbors right into my head in a way that dialogue written in standard English would not have. On the other hand, I struggled with reading and comprehending it. The fault is entirely mine for simple lack of familiarity with black dialect, but it did make reading a chore when I so wanted it to be pure pleasure. (I've had a similar problem with Faulkner although my issues with that guy go far beyond how he chose to render Southern working-class dialogue in print.)

If reading vernacular doesn't bother you, or you are willing to push your way through it in the service of greater familiarity with the world Hurston wants to show us, I expect you would find this to be a book that offers food for thought far beyond turning the last page.
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LibraryThing member magicians_nephew
You can talk about Their Eyes Were Watching God for what it is - or what it isn't.

What it isn't is a bitter angry get-Whitey book like some that came out of the Harlem renaissance. (I may be wrong but I don't think there is a white character in the book - which may be its greatest strength.)

What it is, is a coming-of-age story or a questing story in the classic style, except it's about a woman, with slavery not that long ago in her bloodline, going out in the world to find her way and find her place.

It's a book of lovely wonderful affectionate sketches of life among the Black communities of Northern Florida, in the time between the wars. There's love and laughter and fear and panic andlife and death.

And people! And stories! Insightful revealing stories about the lives of those who live in small Southern towns. Twain does this. Hurston does it too.

(Note that the Gullah accent that she renders flawlessly - if sometimes a little broadly - can take some getting used to.)

And Janie our heroine does not charm us or try to make us like her - she just walks the world to love and grow and learn and keep moving.

I think I've failed utterly in conveying to you the luminous quality of the writing, and the nitty-gritty dusty deep down details of Southern living that this book reveals effortlessly.

But authors who can take you to a new world and show you around while telling a story are always amazing and always welcome in these parts.
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LibraryThing member lauralkeet
This is the story of Janie, an African-American woman in the deep southern United States. As a work of early feminist literature, Their Eyes is about Janie finding her voice or, as described in the Afterword, her "journey from object to subject." Hurston uses several techniques to explore the development of Janie's voice. Some of the novel is written in third person narrative; others in a black English dialect. In some parts, she clearly articulates Janie's thoughts and feelings and in others, she is silent.

Janie is married off at a young age to a landowner named Logan, but this turns out to be a loveless marriage. She is then swept off her feet by Jody Sparks, a sweet-talking man with big ideas and an even bigger ego. As he fulfils his own potential, he suppresses Janie's. After Jody's death, Janie finds true love and personal growth with Tea Cake. He is a poor man, and a bit of a rabble rouser, but he loves her deeply. For the first two-thirds of this book I wondered why Janie loved Tea Cake. He had character traits that didn't suit me much, and it seemed like she could "do better." But then I realized the other men in her life, supposedly "better" men, were the very ones who held her back.

In the second half of this book, Janie and Tea Cake choose to remain in their shanty during a hurricane. It is this scene that gives the book its title: The wind came back with triple fury, and put out the light for the last time. They sat in company with the others in other shanties, their eyes straining against crude walls and their souls asking if He meant to measure their puny might against His. They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God. (p. 151). What amazing imagery! From this point on, the book was a real page-turner, with scenes reminiscent of Hurricane Katrina, and a very poignant aftermath. In the end, Janie stands alone, but strong and independent.

Hurston's work was largely ignored during her time, but Their Eyes has become an essential element of the canon of American literature. It is best read with some accompanying sources that provide an understanding of the social and cultural context in which it was written.
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LibraryThing member snat
Another book that I recently re-read that stands up well to a second reading. Hurston's novel, unlike many classics, is as impressive and as relevant today as it was when written.

Hurston's story of Janie, a fair-skinned black woman caught in the time period between the end of slavery and the civil rights movement, is the first woman in her family who has the opportunity to be defined as something other than property. Janie is unable to define herself or seek out the independence for which she longs; however, this is not due to the racism or prejudices of white society (in fact, there isn't a prominent white character in the book). Instead, Hurston takes a fascinating look at interracial racism. Janie's obvious "whiteness" sets her apart from the black community. At first, she's envied for her pretty hand-me-down dresses and hair ribbons that she obtains from the kind white family for which her grandmother works. Coupled with her straight hair (which hangs down to her waist), her exquisite beauty, and her light skin, she defies color categorization and leaves the question of "What is black?" lacking a definite answer. Later, she's an outcast because her second husband's "big voice" and quest for power in the all black community of Eatonville comes to be identified with the white masters of days gone by, and Janie comes to be seen in the role of the Southern plantation "mistress."

In addition, Hurston explores the repression of women in a patriarchal society. Janie's grandmother tells her that the black woman is the "mule of the world," the lowest of the low. Janie finds this to be true in her first two marriages, as she is treated like property by Logan Killicks and is later objectified by Jody Starks. It isn't until she meets Tea Cake, a man half her age, that Janie begins to live life on her own terms and not by the definition her man has set forth for her.

Whether you like the novel or not, it's importance to African-American and feminist literature is undeniable.
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LibraryThing member EadieB
One of the most important and enduring books of the twentieth century, Their Eyes Were Watching God brings to life a Southern love story with the wit and pathos found only in the writing of Zora Neale Hurston. Out of print for almost thirty years—due largely to initial audiences’ rejection of its strong black female protagonist—Hurston’s classic has since its 1978 reissue become perhaps the most widely read and highly acclaimed novel in the canon of African-American literature.

A Southern love story with wit, beauty and heartfelt wisdom. I listened to the audio and Ruby Dee’s reading brought the whole thing to life. It is a very gripping story and a true classic. It's rich metaphors and analogies are priceless. It tells the irony that "owning" a lover is not secure. But giving a lover the freedom to bloom means you will hold them forever, and they will possess your soul. I look forward to reading more by Zora Neale Hurston. She is a very beautiful writer.
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LibraryThing member cbl_tn
Although I was mentally engaged in this book very quickly, it never engaged my emotions. I felt like an observer rather than a participant in the life of the protagonist, Janie. Maybe it's due to the way Janie narrates her own story. At the point in time that the narration occurs, Janie has moved somewhere beyond her initial emotions about the events of her life to reflection and acceptance. I didn't know until after I finished the book that Hurston was an anthropologist, so perhaps her intent was to appeal more to the mind than to the emotions.

I was surprised that race wasn't more of a factor in the book. Race was always there in the background, but Janie's main conflict was with her role as a wife, not with her lot as an African American. The reader learns fairly early that Janie was the first generation in her family born in freedom, yet Janie wasn't allowed to define freedom for herself. For Janie's grandmother, Nanny, freedom meant that Janie could live the life of ease that Nanny dreamed of. For Janie's first two husbands, freedom meant that the husband would do his wife's thinking for her. None of them thought of asking Janie what she wanted. Although Janie was outwardly cooperative, she withheld her affection from those who crushed her spirit. Janie finally began to experience freedom as a widow.

I liked this book, but didn't love it, so I'm not likely to discover the richness of meaning that would come through multiple readings. It's a book that will stimulate discussion, making it a great choice for the NEA's Big Read program.
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LibraryThing member ceh94
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston was a novel different from others I have willingly read. Typically, when I am looking for a choice book I head straight towards the romantic modern novels. When I reluctantly accepted this novel, set back when segregation was common, from my neighbor her excitement in it made me a little intrigued. Unfortunately, as I began to read I found this authors writing style very different and rather difficult for me to follow. Slowly, I began to get a hang of her writing techniques. She wrote improper most of the time trying to really demonstrate how these people spoke. But as I slowly understood more of the meaning behind the writing I did not find it interesting. I felt as though I barely knew the main character, Janie Crawford, and the plot line seemed very thin and uninteresting. If I had not promised my neighbor that I would read the novel then I know that I would have put down the book on page fifteen and never picked it up again.
Luckily, I did pick it back up and the story line began to speed up as well. After a slow beginning of difficult to follow small talk among neighbors in a small southern town the main character began to open up and allow the story to finally unfold. I happily read along getting more and more into the love affairs this woman was speaking of. Though I was interested in the novel and no longer found it a complete bore, it was not until the end of the novel that I found myself really thrown into the story. I think this is because I had finally been able to picture the words in my head and create my own pictures. It practically took me the entire book to adjust to her writing style, and know that if it were longer than I may be less of a critique towards this book. I would be able to say I understood half instead of just the end.
After three different men and three unique stories I became a slight fan of the novel. As I returned it to my neighbor I bragged about this novel to her. How great it was and how unexpected the events in it were. Just as you expected the true story to unfold, assuming that she has finally gotten to the man the neighbors were all gossiping about in the beginning, she would mention this new man whom she fell in love with and ran off to marry. I am a sucker for romance and so I very much hated this woman who would cheat on her husband. I think the final tally was three different men she fell “out of love with”. Yet she gained my respect back when she did finally find her one true love and express her complete happiness with him.
As much as I hate slow moving books with beginnings that drag on for what feels like forever I am still glad I read this book. It was nice to read something out of my comfort zone this summer. It will hopefully help me to understand more of my unique English books this year. I would not recommend this book to everybody, but those people who actually like a challenge would very much enjoy this novel.
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LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
I remember adoring this book the first time I read it. So much so, that when I was sharing with a new-found friend the books I found most amazing, this one sprang immediately to mind. She didn't care for it though, and on reread though I still love it, I think I can understand why this wouldn't appeal to everyone. First of all, the dialogue is written in American Black dialect, complete with elisions and phonetic spellings. It makes it a struggle to read, even tedious at times trying to wrest meaning from the words. Not as difficult as unmodernized Chaucer perhaps, but harder to parse I think than Shakespeare. Harder than Alice Walker's The Color Purple or Toni Morrison's Beloved, both of which I read recently.

Yet like Chaucer or Shakespeare, there's true poetry in the prose. Right in the second chapter was my favorite passage, among the most extraordinary I've read in literature, where through describing a blossoming pear tree under which Janie Crawford shares her first kiss, we watch a girl come of age: She saw a dust bearing bee sink into the sanctum of a bloom; the thousand sister calyxes arch to meet the love embrace and the ecstatic shiver of the tree from root to tiniest branch creaming in every blossom and frothing with delight. So this was a marriage!

There are lyrical passages that sing throughout the novel, striking lines that have the sparkling resonance of the best of literature. So yes, I think taking the time to see through the sometimes difficulties of reading this beyond rewarding. The story surrounds Janie Crawford, her road to self-awareness and love. Given clues in the text, I'd say the story spans from about 1899 when Janie would be sixteen to around 1928 or so. (The book describes what seems to be the Okeechobee Hurricane of 1928.)

Janie doesn't really find love until she's about forty, after two husbands, with a man 15 years younger than she is, Tea Cake. (That love of a middle-aged woman with a much younger man was something that in itself I found refreshing.) Compared to her second husband, Joe Stark, who was the mayor of a black-run Florida town and entrepreneur, Tea Cake is poor, even feckless. He's no paragon, and Tea Cake and Janie's relationship with him will, I think, be the other major issue some may have with the book. At one point Tea Cake takes 200 dollars of her money off Janie without telling her and spends it foolishly, and another time to show she belongs to him, he slaps her around. Yet Thurston does show his appeal, why Janie flourishes and grows with him, especially after her loveless marriages with repressive husbands. As she tells her friend Pheoby: He kin take most any lil thing and make summertime out of it when times is dull. Then we lives offa dat happiness he made till some mo' happiness come along. He makes her laugh. He brings back to her the joy she felt under that blossoming pear tree when she was young and dreams were still possible. And if there's poverty and tragedy in their story, there's also no bitterness, no self-pity, but a love of life that imbues this book with light despite dark events.

So yes, this is an American classic, and rightly so.
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LibraryThing member eilonwy_anne
This is a quick read, once you've had a few pages to soak into the dialect. I enjoyed the frame, which placed the narrative firmly in a storytelling tradition, and gave us enough clues about Janie's eventful life that we could easily realize it was the life, not the events, that mattered.

The dialogue throughout the book is spritely and delighting, marked by inventive habits of wordplay, and the text of the book itself is often beautiful, evocative, and skeweringly apt. I love the images that pervade it, like bright threads glinting throughout the fabric.

It's short, and much of its work of character and language is expertly begun early and tied off neatly at the end. Therefore, I'm tempted to class it as one of those short novels of jewel-like, novella-style perfection (like The Great Gatsby). However, there are a few episodes that still seem like unexplained detours to me, so it escapes that classification. I'll be studying the book a little more in coming days, so I may have further realizations.

It's an interesting story with well-realized characters, universal relevance, and beautiful writing.
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LibraryThing member mahsdad
Written in the late 30's, this now classic story of a Southern black woman's journey thru life, did not do commercially well and virtually disappeared before being rediscovered in the 70's, primarily on the heels of research and an essay by Alice Walker

Told in flashback, it tells the story of Janie in Central and Southern Florida. As a young teen, she is "married off" to an older man by her grandmother, in order to "save" her. Disillusioned and unfilfilled and not officially married, she runs away from husband #1 to an even older man. He takes her to a new town, where he opens a grocery store and becomes mayor of the town. She has a successful life, but still unfulfilled as she is just a "kept" woman and a trophy wife. After #2 dies and a proscribed period of mourning, she meets #3, a younger more adventurous man, with whom she falls in love. Against the ideas of those around her, she goes off with her new man, promising to do what makes them happy. They eventually end up in the everglades, sharecropping and gambling to make their way. Its here that all good things come to an inevitable tragic end.

Ultimately an excellent read, but my only struggle was Hurston's use of a "slangy" southern drawl for the dialog that was difficult for me to hook into. But once I did, I was rewarded. The last 40-50 pages are what took my initial opinion of the book up quite a few notches. A story dealing with race, gender roles, and liberated women in a time at the tail end of the Depression, it is easy to see why this has now become a mainstay in English classes today. In fact, I read this book primarily because it was on my son's 11th grade English class summer reading list.

Well worth your time.

"And Ah Can't die easy thinkin' maybe de menfolks white or black is makin' a spit cup outa you. Have some sympathy fuh me. Put me ddown easy, Janie, Ah'm a cracked plate."

"There is a basin in the mind where words float around on thought and thought on sound and sight. Then there is a depth of thought untouched by words, and deeper still a gulf of formless feelings untouched by thought."

"She had waited all her life for something, and it had killed her when it found her."

"The wind came back with triple fury, and put out the light for the last time. They sat in company with the others in other shanties, their eyes straining against crude walls and their souls asking if He meant to measure their puny might against His. They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God."

8/10

S: 6/24/17 - 7/3/17 (10 Days)
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LibraryThing member nancenwv
I almost put this book down in the beginning because the dialect is indeed intense and I was having trouble hearing it in my mind. I'm glad I persevered.

Interesting to read about its reviews through various decades and see that people were so focused on race they missed that it's really about women. More than that, though, I think it's about the mentality of subjugation. It is nuanced, beautiful, and heart breaking.… (more)
LibraryThing member dchaikin
There is an interesting story in this book, but its power lies elsewhere. The story itself covers a black woman’s life in circa 1910’s-1920’s Florida. The shadow of slavery is still in living memory and the consequences of slavery – intense black poverty – colors everything. The book is full of dialogue, a southern black slang that makes wading into the book very difficult and disappointing. The strangeness of the dialogue serves kind of as a thick blanket that covers and obscures the deeper meaning here. As a reader, we need to begin to learn it and see under it. Otherwise there is nothing here.

The way the book is laid out, we essentially are forced to learn the dialogue through Joe Starks, a man with an ego who likes to talk. This means we have to learn this language by suffering through his image of the world. Only when we get away from him does the language begin to take on a more magical quality.

The book offers a lot right on the surface. There is a lot of social commentary on black society including that language, on woman in black society, and on the racial instincts that seem permanent and accepted by both the blacks and whites. I got stuck on the mule story which seemed to me to be an analogy of the black condition – with Matt playing the white slave owner and Joe playing the northern white man who freed a used, spent and dieing population. There is also commentary on the 1920’s culture in the newly drained farmlands south of Lake Okeechobee, and a vivid take on the murderous 1928 hurricane. But the story itself only offers us so much. It’s a story of repression, and then of love, but in an unusual way.

The book has some kind of organic strength, something outside the story, something that lies instead in the background, and under or within the words and the story. It grows somehow out of the rhythms of the dialogue – or maybe out of the mixture of the dialogue and the evacuative narrative of plain English. Also, the books leaves some key moments in permanent mystery, and I will always wonder how to interpret them – Janie’s years of silence under Joe; and the author’s silence on how Janie responded to her beatings, some from actual lovers.

There are fascinating stories behind the book, maybe more interesting than the book itself. For one thing, Zora got very little money from her writing. Her jobs late in life included working as a maid and a substitute teacher. She died poor, and was buried in an unmarked grave. At the time of her death her writing had been forgotten, and it remained so until it was dug up again in the 1970’s. Zora wrote this about a year after leaving Harlem, and abandoning her boyfriend there, to do research on Voodoo in Jamaica and Haiti. She poured this book out in only seven weeks while working Haiti. Everything in the book is based on something real in her life. Janie was partially Zora, Tea Cup was her boyfriend in New York, Eatonville was actually her home town, and the mayor was Joe Clarke – hence Joe Starks. The 1928 hurricane was, of course, real and the descriptions were drawn from talking to the people who actually experienced it and whose memories were fresh. And the brain-twisting slang and small-minded mentality probably came from Zora’s real experiences as child in Eatonville.
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LibraryThing member porch_reader
This year, I've been picking a favorite book to re-read each month. This was my re-read for August. The opening lines provide a great illustration of Hurston's lyrical writing and her philosophical musings:

"Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men."

Their Eyes Were Watching God tells the story of Janie Crawford, a Black woman living in Florida in the early part of the twentieth century. She struggles to find herself, instead being pulled into two all-consuming marriages before she meets Tea Cake, a drifter who she falls in love with. Their adventures take them to the swamps of Okechobee, where in the description of a hurricane, the book gets its name:

"The wind came back with triple fury, and put out the light for the last time. They sat in company with the others in other shanties, their eyes straining against crude walls and their souls asking if He meant to measure their puny might against His. They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God."

Janie's story is compelling. She is both light and serious, both wise and naïve. She lives and loves with every fiber of her being. But what happens to Janie and Tea Cake and the others is not the point of this book. This is a book that marks a time and a place, that tells the story of a Black woman who is diminished neither by the fact that she is Black or a woman. It held up well to re-reading and remains one of my favorites.
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LibraryThing member jppoetryreader
My greatest interest in this book was from a woman's perspective. The main character flounders through attempts at freedom yet continuously finds herself entrapped in relationships where abuse and limitations occur. Unfortunately, this remains a problem for women. The look for satisfaction or to have the world widened for them via a relationship and discover that the opposite occurs. One of the significant differences between this book and most others from this time (and later) is how frankly it handles the subject of money and how it affects relationships. Janie, the main character, eventually becomes financially independent and thus able to make choices about men regardless of their ability to provide for her. Some people refer to her as having an independent spirit or as finding herself but I see her as always following someone, from her grandmother to Tea Cake. It would be worthwhile to discuss Janie's choices with a group of pre-teen or teenage girls. It's a shame Hurston didn't continue the book into her life without Tea Cake.

Much as I liked this book, it had some pointed flaws. Being the anthropologist that she is, she too often falls into watching the men tell tales or trade language on the porch and loses track of the supposed heroine. The black vernacular didn't bother me because she uses it very consistently. It's rarely confusing. There are also incongruous events, like Tea Cake hitting Janie when we haven't been led to believe he would do that, just the opposite. I was also disappointed by how undeveloped Janie's relationship with her friend Phoeby was. She was less a character in the story than a devise.

One of the aspects of this novel I liked most was its complexity. Hurston juggles race, gender, and poverty and we see their interrelations shift and change. This is a book I'll keep on my shelf and has made me curious about Hurston's autobiography.
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LibraryThing member AlCracka
So I've been reading through the Harlem Renaissance lately, that period between 1920 and 1940 that had this explosion of black literature. I read Allain Locke's The New Nego, a compilation with guys like Langston Hughes and Jean Toomer - great stuff. Really smart. And I read Jean Toomer's Cane, the Harlem Renaissance's entry into the modernist novel: really ambitious, fractured, weird, brilliant but not entirely successful. I read Nella Larsen's Quicksand: great plot, great characters, not always the most elegant writing. I read George Schuyler's Black No More, a satire about a guy who develops a serum that turns black people white. Effective satire, fun to read...not quite good enough to make it into the canon.

And then I read Their Eyes Were Watching God, and it was just amazing. Ambiguous, shifty, deep, smart, perfectly put together.

Hurston fought with Richard Wright about the point of the Harlem Renaissance. He said black authors have to engage with white people, with the fight for equality. Hurston is defiantly unconcerned with white people: this is a book about black people, almost wholly unconcerned with what white people are up to. Today it seems silly that anyone would question that, but at the time she came under fire, and her book sank out of sight for 30 years until Alice Walker went and dove down and got it.

Hurston was an anthropologist, she collected and studied black folklore, and she weaves it into this book in a way that adds to and comments on the story - and it's also wicked entertaining. This is the earliest mention I know of The Dozens, the game of dissing that today comprises my entire relationship with TD.

It's held up since then and it holds up now. Loads of people have attacked it as being a belated black entry into the canon for PC reasons. But why this and not those other books I mentioned above? This because it's better. It's wonderful. This is a book that stands up.

I was hanging out with this friend of mine tonight who I hadn't seen for a few years and she was like "Dude, you read sortof a weird amount of books so I can't really keep up on FB, but anything stand out for you over the past...years?" and I was like "Yeah, Their Eyes." I like this book.
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LibraryThing member caroren
A wonderful story of a woman coming into her own that should be listened to, to be fully appreciated and understood because of the southern black dialogue which is heavy in some place. Their Eyes Were Watching God, an American classic, is the luminous and haunting novel about Janie Crawford, a Southern Black woman in the 1930s, whose journey from a free-spirited girl to a woman of independence and substance has inspired writers and readers for close to 70 years.

This poetic, graceful love story, rooted in Black folk traditions and steeped in mythic realism, celebrates boldly and brilliantly African-American culture and heritage. And in a powerful, mesmerizing narrative, it pays quiet tribute to a Black woman who, though constricted by the times, still demanded to be heard.

Originally published in 1937 and long out of print, the book was reissued in 1975 and nearly three decades later Their Eyes Were Watching God is considered a seminal novel in American fiction.

Performed by Ruby Dee
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LibraryThing member Dorritt
Admit I spent years unfairly biased against this book because so many people told me I should read this for its literary significance - Harlem Renaissance, New Negro Movement, etc. If only they'd told me I should read it because it's a moving and gorgeously written narrative, perhaps I wouldn't have waited so long! For those of you who many be in the same boat, let me allay your fears: this isn't a militant polemic against racism, nor the self-conscious, bloated "trophy novel" of a literary giant, nor the product of a specific time and ethos ... this is just really good storytelling, ageless and affecting in all the ways good storytelling should be.

This story narrates the life of Janie, an African-American woman growing up in Florida in the early 20th century. Yes, it was an era when racism was rife, and racism shapes the paths of her life in a thousand explicit and implicit ways, but this isn't primarily a story about racism: it's about a woman finding the courage to pursue what makes her happy, even as social norms and customs work actively to thwart her. In Janie's case, all she wants is not to have to pretend to be something she's not. Discarding husbands along the way, she finally finds happiness with a man years younger than herself - a fitting match(at last) for her young soul. In this era of modern, self-realized feminism, her patient acceptance of unhappiness, exploitation, and abuse may grate, but I believe Hurston is doing no more than painting Janie's story with the colors of her own life and times.

At the time it was published, I gather this book was not well received by Hurston's Harlem peers. I see their point (or I think I see it) - many of the secondary characters in the tale seem plucked straight out of a "common black stereotypes" casting call. There's her second husband, the Carpetbagger, fast-talking and slick and not above exploiting his fellow African-Americans; her best friend, the Patient Black Woman selflessly putting everyone else's happiness before her own; her third husband, the happy-go-lucky Mr. Bojangles; and a whole posses of straw-chewing, tall-tale-telling Old Black Men gathered wherever there's a porch and a checkerboard to host them. Again, I think this is just Hurston painting with the palette she knows, bravely (much like her heroine Janie) writing what made her happy rather than what her peers thought she ought to be writing.

Another criticism I've heard of the book is that Hurston's use of dialect can make this a slow read. For that reason I deliberately listened to it as an audiobook, narrated by actress/poet/journalist/civil rights activist Ruby Dee. Through her interpretation, any barriers between the readers and the language quickly melt away in a flood of appreciation for the uniquely authentic and evocative speech patterns and lyric metaphorical allusions employed by Hurston's rich and complex subculture. Seriously, some of the figurative language is so stunningly expressive, at times I had to stop reading and just pause to appreciate it.

I hope this review encourages others to give this a read, and I especially encourage book clubs to consider adding this to their reading lists. There's so much here to discuss, ponder, and admire.
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LibraryThing member MoniqueReads
Once again I am reviewing a book that is required high school reading for a lot of people. But was not for me. And while I was pleasantly surprised with "To Kill A Mockingbird", I don't have that same feeling with Ms. Hurston's novel. But isn't that how it goes with required high school reading? I am not saying that I hated it but I am rather indifferent to the whole novel.

First let me explain the novel to you (those of you that haven't read it). The synopsis is a little misleading (in my opinion). The story is about a black woman, Janie Crawford, who was raised by her grandmother (a former slave). Janie's grandmother had certain ideas about what a good life was and enforced those on Janie, who bowed to her wishes. That is just the first part of the book. The rest of the story is about Janie's journey through life trying to find herself. Sounds interesting doesn't it?

Now I have several issues with the book overall but I will start with the good. "Their Eyes Were Watching God" was a great depiction of the life of the main character and the struggle she (and other black women) had growing up in a post slavery world. You see some of the hardship and a little of the racism that occurred. Hurston used the black dialect as a literary tool to make her to keep with the time and place of the story and the economic status of her characters.

While the language is in keeping with the time of the story, it takes a little getting use to. When I first started reading the story I had to read the character's dialogue a couple of times to get what they were saying. After I got uses to it, it went smoothly.

The characters were flat. They were very one dimensional. The main character Janie never really changed. Her situation changed. The person she was living with changed. But she didn't. She just sort of followed where they lead her and became who they wanted her to be. Now I don't know if that says something of the women of her time or if Hurston was trying to convey a message. Whatever it was it left a lot to be desired. The other main character Tea Cake had a little more dimension to him and the story began to feel as if it was more about Tea Cake than Janie. When Janie married Sparks she became the docile, helpful house wife. When she married Tea Cake she sort of became his partner in crime, a traveling companion. But I never really felt any connection between the two. The characters never jumped off the page and made me feel for them or really care what was happening.

Another thing that I have issues with is the treatment of violence against women. In the story, both Joe (Janie's second husband) and Tea Cake strike Janie, for minor reasons. The story portrays this as a normal occurrence. The men in the story even joke about abusing their wives and such. This may have been "normal" or "acceptable" at the time. But for an African-American artist and a woman whose heyday was during the Harlem Renaissance, I think Hurston missed an opportunity to make some kind of social commentary. Or maybe she did by playing wife beating off as a causal occurrence between man and wife.

This book really didn't catch me. It left me with a lot of questions (is that a good sign?) and just sort of feeling like "it's done, oh well".
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LibraryThing member bgrete
“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”

-Zora Neale Hurston

You are not ethnic-bound to the majority of the books you read. The characters are in costumes that you wouldn't wear except when it’s Halloween Party or in fancy school play. They talk in different languages, sometimes they use strings of old poetic words, and they are always snatched by the fingers of Fate to be put in the middle of strange circumstances—way different from your just-get-through-the-day life. They belonged to different cultures, different time, and different sociopolitical landscapes. The lead characters often have supra-normal guts to undertake an adventure, or some magical powers or above average will to counter clandestine forces. It is not a problem for a reader. Lying on a disheveled bed, or sitting thoughtfully, you read books until you were seized by physical stillness and until your mind was being transported by crazy time and space mechanism to eras or centuries or countries you would never physically find yourself into—to Austen’s parties, Dicken’s filthy buildings, Bronte’s meadows, Salinger’s snowy streets, Orwell’s Room 101, Crichton’s laboratories, Grisham’s court rooms. Everywhere. You are in your soiled clothes of yesterday in your usual lazy mood, annoyed by the latest pop songs banging from the neighbor; acquired social media fatigue for these past months—until you held a book close to your face, you forgot about the world around you, until your heart was drenched with that heavy sense of affinity to that character in the story. A sense of something so universal that the existential boundary between you and the book would fade.

Reading Zora Neale Hurston Their Eyes Were Watching God, you have to exchange your comfy clothes to denim over-alls and watch the black rural life moving before you, the imagery of the fields in the early America dotted with the black bodies, with the notable figure of a slender mocha-skinned woman, arising from the background as she alternates planting beans and teasing her young husband. Later on, you have to leave the confinement of your room as you became exposed to the prying and judgmental eyes of the folks of Eatonville (a white-approved black village founded by Janie’s second husband, the late mayor Joe Starks) as you walked with Janie towards the big house she had left for a shanty. After the death of her Mayor husband, who unsuccessfully shackled her inner wild to remain a domesticated patriarchal possession, Janie left the town with a man seven years her junior, an obscure man known as Tea Cake. The day of her departure, she was clad in silky blue dress and drowned with happiness, with fat dollars clipped on her bosom. After few years, she returned, barefooted, in over-alls. Folks were strong in the notion that the vagabond Tea Cake exhausted the wealth of the widow, then left her with nothing. In retrospective tone and vivid flashback, the tired Janie recounted to her defender-friend Pheoby how she returned to Eatonville without anything but a memory of a true love and happiness.

Perhaps as a child then, you've learned the concept of marriage from the early drama series in television. Or maybe from random images of ladies in immaculate gown escorted by a man in black suit. Yes—from your flower girl/bible bearer days in your relatives’ wedding ceremonies. With young Janie Crawford, she discovered the idea of union in the bees plunging into the core of flowers. It is the coming-to-age and coming-to-awareness aspect of the book, the bee and flower symbol:

She saw a dust-bearing bee sink into the sanctum of a bloom; the thousand sister-calyxes arch to meet the love embrace and the ecstatic shiver of the tree from root to the tiniest branch creaming in every blossom and frothing with delight. So this was marriage! She had been summoned to behold a revelation.

There’s always that secret knowing inside of us. With Mr. Killick’s, Janie was intuitively convinced that there was no trace of “love embrace” in their marriage as arranged by Nanny, her grandmother. Love was not the driving force in such union, as Nanny, who was long-time tied to white ownership, had chosen the old Hogan Killicks for her husband due to his piece of land and peaceful life as a man-brute. Ole skullhead in de grave yard, as Janie first described him. In that way, Nanny’s suffering would be vindicated, all she dreamed of was seeing Janie sitting on a porch: for sitting was a luxury for a black slave. When Logan and Janie lie in one bed every night, there was no vision of the bees and flowers. One day, Janie after marital fury, slipped out of their house and waited for the ambitious Joe Starks by the road. There was something bigger than the privilege of sitting on the porch. With Joe Starks, it was about sitting on a throne.

With the black psyche dominated by thoughts of white omnipotence, it was first hard to believe for first settlers that a young newcomer with a beautiful wife could buy a vast land from his long-time earnings, sell them to potential occupants, widen the demography of the impoverished and anarchic settlement and established a town with a post-office. Joe Starks did it, with his polished suit and commanding presence; he was so great that the people unanimously chose him as their mayor, so great that his own wife, Mrs. Joe Starks, would vocally likened him to Abraham Lincoln. The Starks became pseudo-white couple to the residents, powerful and established. Janie was told to remain inside the store and to serve him his meals religiously. We guess that it was an ethnic Cinderella story.

After Mayor Starks died, Janie left Eatonville and her great house; she eloped with a penniless young man who would accompany her to fishing lakes and picnics and firing practices.

Janie was a scandalous, morally loose, indecent, childishly active, discontented, ungrateful widow of a great man that was Joe Starks.

But with Tea Cake, all was bees and flowers and that was the only thing that had been important to her throughout her story. With Tea Cake she was springing with life and vital force akin to personal freedom.

Undress, throw your over-alls, and wipe your oily forehead. Let us sing and dance with Janie and Tea Cake. The community they were in was a melting point of agricultural tribes; there were always merriment, laughter, and food. Tea Cake was respected for the natural charm of his wit. And Janie’s beauty was well-known. It was a life in simple bliss and overflowing love in a ragged abode and self-sustaining planting. It was also a life of tragic outcome and of the subservience to omnipotence of an unknown great force that has been thwarting man’s ideals since the beginning of time. Their eyes were watching God as he showed his deadly maneuverings.

Hurston’s Their Eyes is in part a story of tragic love, and a part about personal triumph. Hurston's use of the charm of the English language as naturally spoken by the blacks in her book added a realistic quality, although the narration is highly poetic. The book is not ashamed of the blacks' affinity to the rural and to the agricultural, and to the rowdy and frivolous common black life---great black writer Richard Wright used to bash Hurston over Their Eyes. Unlike ideologically fueled literature known to activists of that time, the interpretation of events in the novel is so intimate and simple that we cry when Janie had chosen to live as an heir to a lovely memory.

We waltz with Janie with her phantasm of Tea Cake in the end of the story—despite the hostile judgment of the world, and the limiting prescriptions of sociocultural realm, we have learned to be comfortable with our own ambition to attain what is good and noble, and to run from what is bad for our souls, yes, through the eyes of the carefree Janie. Reading it is worth the smears of soil in our pants.
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LibraryThing member francomega
Had 2 days to read this in order to run a book discussion as part of our county's Big Read program. Very pleasantly surprised. Well written and accessible. Hurston had a great ear for dialect and could really turn out a metaphor.
LibraryThing member nicolewbrown
Set sometime between the World Wars, this novel opens up with the main character, Janie, arriving back in Eaton, Florida, an all-black town, wearing overalls and muddied up. The old women sitting on the porch are desperate to know where she has been all this time, but Janie has never been one to gossip or mess with them. However, she knows they will never leave her alone and maybe she wants her story told, so she has her friend Pheoby tell it for her.

She begins at the start of her life as a girl in West Florida where her Nanny worked for a white family. She sent her to school and had hopes for her, but when she sees her kisses a no-account man when she was sixteen, she realizes that she needs to see her settled with a husband before she dies so she had someone to look after her. Her Nanny has found the perfect man in Logan Killick who owns sixty acres and is nice if fat and old and he has been asking for her hand for a while. Janie hopes to find herself in love with him, but it doesn't happen and she instead finds herself stuck on a farm with a man who loves her but expects her to work on the farm.

When Joe Starks comes sniffing around the farm she falls for his charm and runs off with him and his talk of big dreams and a town in Florida that is made up of all blacks. When they get there things are run down with a collection of shacks and no government set in place, like a mayor. Joe Starks aims to change that by telling others what to do and spending his money to buy more land from the man who donated some of his lands to start the town. On Stark's land, he has built his home, and a store, as well as selling plots of land to others to build homes on. Stark makes Janie wear her hair covered in a headscarf because he wants no one to see her gorgeous hair but him. He also makes her work in the store and when she isn't in the store he makes her stay at home doing nothing. He sees her as too good for most of the town folk. He has no interest in her opinion as a woman is stupid and not worth listening to.

This book slogs along until Tea Cake shows up like a burst of sunshine. He shows Janie true love and how to live life. But something must go wrong because at the beginning of the book Janie says that Tea Cake is gone and that is why she has come back to Eatonville. This is a beautifully written book. I first read it in high school and hated it. I can only surmise that I did not finish it and get to the Tea Cake part, because the first half of the book is a bit hard to read, but the last half makes it more than worthwhile.

Quotes
Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men. Now, women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do accordingly.
-Zora Neale Hurston (Their Eyes Were Watching God p 1)

An envious heart makes a treacherous ear.
-Zora Neale Hurston (Their Eyes Were Watching God p 5)
She knew now that marriage did not make love. Janie’s first dream was dead, so she became a woman.
-Zora Neale Hurston (Their Eyes Were Watching God p 25)

Some people could look at a mudpuddle and see and ocean with ships.
-Zora Neale Hurston (Their Eyes Were Watching God p 89)

Yuh can’t beat uh woman. Dey jes won’t stand fuh it.
-Zora Neal Hurston (Their Eyes Were Watching God p 96)

When you see uh woman doin’ so much rakin’ in her head, she’s combin’ at some man or ‘nother.
-Zora Neale Hurston (Their Eyes Were Watching God p 111)

“But you’re takin’ uh awful chance.” “No mo’ than Ah took befo’ and no mo’ than anybody else takes when dey gits married. It always changes folks, and sometimes it brings out dirt and meanness dat even de person didn’t know they had in ‘em theyselves.
-Zora Neale Hurston (Their Eyes Were Watching God p 113)

All gods who receive homage are cruel. All gods dispense suffering without reason. Otherwise they would not be worshiped. Through indiscriminate suffering men know fear and fear is the most divine emotion. It is the stones for altars and the beginnings of wisdom. Half gods are worshiped in wine and flowers. Real gods require blood.
-Zora Neale Hurston (Their Eyes Were Watching God p 145)

Love is like the sea. It’s uh movin’ thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from the shore it meets, and it’s different with every shore.
-Zora Neale Hurston (Their Eyes Were Watching God p 191)
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LibraryThing member juliette07
First sentence
Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.

Final sentences
Here was peace. She pulled in her horizon like a great fish net. Pulled it from around from around the waist of the world and draped it over her shoulder. So much of life in its meshes! She called in her soul to come and see.

These sentences reflect the beauty and lyricism of the narrative of this novel. This story takes the reader on a journey away from the idealized and stereotyped afro American women. Somehow, and in spite of the afro – American dialect in which much of the book is written the way in which our central character Janie grows, develops and reflects upon life as a whole person, as a women has much that spoke to me regardless of skin colour and roots.

Speaking personally some of the dialect was at times tough going. Such was the power of the writing, the life of Janie, that the challenge was no longer so! In essence we follow Janie as she journeys from a sixteen year old to a mature woman. Her awakening is likened to her experience of her watching singing bees on a pear tree.

‘Oh to be a pear tree – any tree in bloom! With kissing bees singing of the beginning of the world! She was sixteen. She had glossy leaves and bursting buds and she wanted to struggle with her life but it seemed to elude her. Where were the singing bees for her?’

A thought provoking story – worthy of four stars. Do be sure to read an edition that contains an introduction by Holly Eley and the afterword by Sherley Anne Williams.
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