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Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

A luminous and haunting novel.

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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.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was so rich, really loved this, even after having read it three times now, first in high school, then chosen as a character study for a women’s studies course in college, and now for Life’s Library Book Club.

I’d recommend it to anyone. A great pick for book clubs.

The Story
I loved the way the author created a certain kind of nuance to the story, paralleled with the life cycle of a plant, a pear tree in particularly, blossoms, embracing each part of its growth stage, the main character coming into her womanhood, her relationships, whether romantic or platonic. Coming into her identify in social status, following the racial divide, the freedoms she wanted, the tensions she faced, the contradiction of those closest to her, even her own friends and family, some unable to relate, some in denial, some with outright hate.

It’s an important book and I feel like my perspective in reading it at different times of my life has made me appreciate it so much more.

It evoked a certain nostalgia for me.

It’s interesting how a reread of a book can take you straight back to your thoughts at the time, memories you didn’t even realize you formed. When I came across the line, “Put dat in yo’ pipe and smoke it” I was immediately taken back to high school, kids giggling as they quoted such a line, challenging the teacher, the class clown being silly, pleading “Well it was in our reading!”

I remember the book having a certain impact at a young age, how my experiences of the world and myself were not well articulated but discovering how a book like this expressed feeling you could never put into your own words, references not even well formed yet context through shared experiences.

Coupled with the very fact that accessibility to a book like this with its known contents was in my possession as a teenager. I even remember the controversy over sexual explicitness, abuse issues, historical context, language, and even the lack of proper grammar being showcased in a book that was a required read. Class discussions (quite the way to develop a sense of self I must say), taking place about how topics of the sort were being revisited, the how and why it was part of our required reading, and what was the result. What did they want us to learn? I remember thinking how honored should I be that teachers would want to invest in our education, how amazing it was to be able to read about someone else’s experience, and how dreadful it must be to attend a school that thought of a book like this as poison.

For me, it also took me back to a time of vulnerable innocence, not quite grasping all that the book had to offer. In my university women’s study course, it was brought on as a character study. A course geared toward studying what it means to be a woman. What shapes a woman. How are women identified. What women can, have, and could contribute to society. Asking how can women progress in life and find personal satisfaction individually and collectively? What holds women back? How far we’ve come? What is the life goal for a woman? What are the things that bring us joy and genuine happiness? How is that passed on generationally?

With this most recent reread, I feel it’s more of a personal read, hits me in a different way, a more relational level, looking at Janie’s companionships, her personal and family relationships, free-spirited choices in life, looking at the ones that held her back and where she ultimately ended up.

The title makes for a great discussion.

In my heart also is a deeper appreciation for literacy as a whole.

The Narration
The POV kept a certain tone consistent, all while skipping around with enough perspective that gave me a sort of strong idea of where the character was coming from. I could see why she loved Tea Cake, though he had character flaws not likely to be desired by a certain majority of women, but her life experiences brought her to accept some, reject others how she saw fit, celebrating the notion that one could choose.

Setting
Florida, 1928. I’ve traveled to Florida, have survived hurricanes, of course never been to 1928, but the cultural aspects mentioned along with the writing made it easy to imagine it as so.

Vernacular
I loved the expressiveness mixed with the formal, philosophical quotes in more lyrical fashion. This was a big point of discussion with my first read in high school. Should required reading, books in general, really be “teaching” kids improper English? How does creative writing techniques and life perspective fit into a primary school curriculum? Does it condone such things? And how does a writer draw strength in showing this in books rather than readers being told? Can you ever get the same effect? I’d say not really, which is why I probably appreciated this book so much because the risk the author took telling it like it was.

Characters
A lot to unpack here. Nuances. The character arc is subtle and is shown through a few actions/inactions, but mostly mirrored in her relationships as they come along. Maturity, discretion, desire, hope, fulfillment.

My Favorite Lines
“Put dat in yo’ pipe and smoke it.”

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”

“When God had made The Man, he made him out of stuff that sung all the time and glittered all over. Some angels got jealous and chopped him into millions of pieces, but still he glittered and hummed. So they beat him down to nothing but sparks but each little spark had a shine and a song. So they covered each one over with mud. And the lonesomeness in the sparks make them hunt for one another.”

View all my reviews

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