Title: Their Eyes Were Watching God
Author: Zora Neale Hurston
Genre: Classic/ Historical Fiction
First Publication date: 1937
Fair and long-legged, independent and articulate, Janie Crawford sets out to be her own person — no mean feat for a black woman in the ’30s. Janie’s quest for identity takes her through three marriages and into a journey back to her roots.
Every time I pick up a classic I am feeling insecure. Not because of how amazing and worthy it may be, or because I feel like my life will change or something, but because I rarely fall in love with classics as other people claim to do. Indeed for a book to become a classic it must have touched on a major subject, has an outstanding writing style or idea but rarely those things ring the bells of heaven in all of us.
When I started Their Eyes Were Watching God, and after reading the short summary, I did my best to keep an open mind and enjoy the story. What made it more difficult than usual was the fact that I know little of American history and I had a horrible time understanding the dialogue due to the stylistic approach Zora Neale Hurston had taken.
Don’t get me wrong, once I got past the latter (took me about 17 pages to get used to their way of speaking so I can read normally) I started to appreciate the story to its full extent. It felt so realistic, so touching and I couldn’t put the book down. I may not be that big fan of realistic fiction (more of a fantasy/sci-fi gal myself) but I can appreciate a good story once I see it.
Their Eyes Were Watching God is the story of Janie Crawford following her from her early childhood to her adult life. Strange enough this is not a story about religion or God per se (although they do play a role in it) or one about vile racism and subjugation; those themes are naturally intertwined in the main plot among many others. But no, this is a story about love and loss, a story about finding oneself and living by your choices no matter what other people think.
At the young age of sixteen Janie is married to Logan Killicks (a man around forty-years-old), pushed into the marriage by her grandmother who wanted her granddaughter to have stability and assurance in life. The loveless marriage and dull life quickly turns Janie in an empty shell who can’t help but wonder ‘is this all?’. Until one day she meets Joe Sparks – a handsome, driven man around thirty, and runs away with him. Their infatuation quickly turns into routine and Janie soon realizes that despite the money, the stability and everything Joe provides for her she is still missing something. True love.
We watch Janie transforms again and again throughout the story. From silly, dreamy girl to a woman who understands life a little better to dutiful wife who has given up on true happiness and goes through the motions on habit. And finally, to a flower in bloom once she meets Michael Ealy, a.k.a Tea Cake, a man almost two times younger than her.
Everything until that moment is like a build-up for their relationship, their hardships and happiness. Without seeing what Janie has been through to become the person she is we would never understand her happiness, her love, her insecurity and her strength to go for what she wants no matter what the others think. The dark and stormy end of the story was my favorite part even though I did feel heartbroken for seeing her suffer yet again after everything she has been through.
And as a writer who likes things to be neat at the end I appreciated the frame of the story: starting with Janie coming home after being gone for a few years and telling her friend the story of her life – to ending up with Janie and her friend finishing the story on the porch of Janie’s house. I did not particularly understand why the ending of the book should be spoiled in the very beginning but I guess it did keep the tension up – wondering and considering how the end would come.
I would give Their Eyes Were Watching God a 4/5 rating. It was entertaining, it was emotional and I could see why so many people love it.
What about you? What rating would you give? What are your thoughts and takes on Their Eyes Were Watching God?