Sunday, May 4, 2014

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston

I read this for the Back to the Classics challenge as my classic by a woman author. This was also highly recommended by one of our teen patrons who said this is one of his favorites.

Janie is raised by her grandmother who works for a white family and the family dotes on Janie. Her grandmother is a former slave who was raped by her master and her daughter was not married when she had Janie. When her grandmother sees how Janie is treated by the other black children, who are mad because of her light skin and because they think she acts white, they move. Her grandmother wants better for Janie and marries her young to a black farmer who doesn't understand Janie's nature. She runs off with Joe Starks to the all-black town of Eatonville in Florida. Joe also doesn't understand Janie and tries to make her a grand lady, since he wants to be mayor. Janie begins to give up the idea of being her own person and finding real love, when Tea Cake comes along. Tea Cake treats her as his equal, doesn't care that she is light skin, and wants her to be part of his life, not his property. The story is Janie's growth as a person and how love can help us embrace who we are.

I had to read a bit of history to grasp all the concepts in this book. Hurston died penniless and for many years had an unmarked grave. She was criticized by many writers in the Black Harlem movement who thought she was not speaking out enough for a stronger black race. They did not realize she was speaking for black women whose voices had been silenced. It was only when Alice Walker and Toni Morrison saw in Hurston that black women could have a voice and that voice could be different than black men that the full richness of Hurston's work was appreciated.

I can see how she was influenced by the world around her, the early to middle 1900s, when black people had little rights, were still held down by the economic world that existed after slavery, and how they were struggling to gain back their voices. I think her novel goes beyond just the world in which she lived and resonates with both men and women today. The grandmother trying to make life better for her grandchild by determining out who she should be is like the parent today who wants better for hos or her child, without truly understanding his or her child. The themes of waiting to be alive and experiencing the joy of life without barriers, of finding someone who truly loves and sees you, and of being transformed and not limited by love can strike cords with everyone. I know it made me think about my life and what values I want to embrace.

It took me a bit to get used to the dialect, but once I did, it added richness to the story. I think this was a beautiful novel and I loved the themes and characters in Hurston's work.

Favorite Character: Janie. She tried to honor her grandmother and she tried to honor her three husbands. When she finally blooms into her own person with Tea Cake and without, she is beautiful.

Favorite Quote: "They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God."

Wonderful! Definitely a 5 cups of cocoa read!


  1. I read this in college and loved it. I should re-read it sometime.

    1. I loved it and hopefully I can fit in another of her works soon!