Their Eyes Were Watching God

Since I mentioned this book last week, I thought I would review it. It is MY blog after all, so I do what I please. Is nice.

The first time that I read, Their Eyes Were Watching God, was my senior year of high school when the boy that I liked lent me his copy. As he gave it to me, he told me that it would be a little slow to start, but then I would get used to the ebonics and really enjoy it. I better enjoy it, I thought, to make him happy because if I didn’t, I knew I wouldn’t be able to pretend. Even though I told myself (and teachers, vice principals, students, etc) that I didn’t like English in high school, that didn’t stop me from reading lots and for sure being the only kid that REALLY appreciated my mom’s library in the back of the boys’ room.

D-Dawg was right; it was a little slow to start reading this book, but before long, I did get used to the writing and finished within a few days. And I didn’t have to pretend; I really did enjoy it and would even go so far as to say that I loved it. Why?

First, because the protagonist is a woman who has to battle for independence from a strong-willed grandmother and domineering husband. Second, because I mostly fell in love with Tea Cake. At first, I couldn’t accept him for his name, but before too long, his respect, sweet-talking and extempore won me over.

Published in 1937, Zora Neale Hurston wrote an early feminist novel of black literature. (Can you believe that a boy suggested that I read it? He was a good boy, too.) Set in Florida, it’s the story of Janie, raised by her grandmother, married to the man who grandmother chose for her, Logan. After Nanny dies and Logan’s affections for his very young wife disappear, Janie runs away with Joe Starks, a well-dressed, whistling man walking down the road. Her new, younger husband (only 17-years older) spoils her and talks about the colored town they are moving to. Joe’s energy and confidence builds up their new town and Janie becomes Mrs. Mayor Starks, who has to put up with censors from her husband, run the store without knowing much math, and keeps her hair hidden under a head rag.

Without giving away too much more of the plot, eventually, Tea Cake comes into Janie’s picture and brings back a free-wheeling sense of fun.

When the book was first published, people were buying Gone With the Wind and Absalom, Abasalom!, not books about black women’s rights. Most black males were angered when they encountered the violence of Joe Starks and Tea Cake. Hurston’s heroine was admirable and a survivor who deserved a better black male role model. It also lacked any political message; not one character in the novel was interested in segregation, the horrors of lynching or voting rights. It wasn’t until Alice Walker reintroduced Hurston to the literary world in 1973 that the book received a positive reception. Now it is recognized as the story of choices, love, spousal abuse and story-telling.

One thought on “Their Eyes Were Watching God

  1. I love this book so much. Reading your review reminded me about Janie’s journey and her discovery of herself through the various men throughout the book. So even while it portrays these relationship, it’s really a very personal novel.

    Plus, the writing, descriptions, and comparisons are superb (and often hilarious). I and so craving this book right now.


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