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Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale…
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Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937)

by Zora Neale Hurston

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 158 (next | show all)
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. ( )
1 vote porch_reader | Aug 14, 2014 |
This book is definitely in my top 5. I would highly recommend this book. I read this in the second semester of my senior year of high school, and the timing was perfect. I found many meaningful and beautiful messages in this story about living and experiencing life for yourself. I really liked the way Zora Neale Hurston wrote the story. ( )
  nfoto | Jul 9, 2014 |
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. ( )
1 vote magicians_nephew | Jul 9, 2014 |
[Their Eyes Were Watching God] represents a rare place in literature, written by an African American female in 1937. The novel fell out of print, largely due to its controversial reception by other more prominent African American authors, until Alice Walker published an article about the book and its author.

The novel is the story of Janie Crawford, as told by Janie to her friend Phoeby. Janie recounts the different phases of her life, corresponding to three marriages. The first marriage was arranged by her slave-born grandmother when Janie is just a teenager. Logan, a farmer, doesn’t love Janie, but expects her to pull a fair share of the work around the farm. He’s a hard man, but offers the stability that Janie’s grandmother had hoped for her. Janie is more interested in love, and she falls for a rich man on his way to a town that he has heard about established by and built for black people. Joe, flush with cash and ambition, arrives in the town and soon seeds the population with enough money and ideas for them to pronounce him mayor. Janie stays with Joe for over a decade, managing Joe’s store and playing the part of the first lady of the town. Janie leads a respectable and easy life but Joe is harsh and belittling and never lives up to the courting that won Janie over. When Joe dies, Janie sells the store and strikes out with Tea Cake, a gambler, and finally finds the wild love that she has always hoped for. They live for the moment, following seasonal jobs and card or dice games. While they are picking beans in Florida, a hurricane descends and during their flight, a rabid dog bites Tea Cake. Without treatment, paranoia captures him, and Janie is forced to shoot him.

There is an obvious feminist theme running through the book, Janie achieving greater levels of freedom and independence with each phase of her life. Some scholars look at the three men in Janie’s life as representative of three different philosophies of racial politics. Or the story could be looked at only as a story about a woman’s search for love.

There are some beautiful lines and passages in the book:
“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”
“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 feeling untouched by thought.”

And perhaps one of the best opening paragraphs I’ve ever read:
“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.”

But amid all of this beauty, there a tiresome story sometimes descends. Hurston seemed determined to represent the life and speech of poor, Southern black communities. And the meandering conversations, related in phonic dialog, that are meant to carry Janie’s story forward, often get mired in the muck. Though a fairly short book, the reading can get slow in deciphering the language and in trying to place the conversations in context. Having read Maya Angelou’s [I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings] recently, Hurston’s book seems to try too hard to capture a particular voice, so much so that she doesn’t always deliver the message that voice is meant to carry. Angelou strikes the balance much more keenly.

Bottom Line: Perhaps an important book in the African American canon of the racial politics and literature, but one that, even with its beauty, can become a tiring read.

3 ½ bones!!!!! ( )
  blackdogbooks | May 17, 2014 |
I loved this book, loved the language of it, loved Janie's interior life, loved the snapshot portraits of the various people she encountered, *really* loved Tea Cake's courtship and winning of her, loved how ZNH managed to work in some of her research on Bahamian song and dance traditions too. Loved the description of the hurricane. Cool book. I wish I could have met and known ZNH.

I have two entries' worth of quotes from the novel over on LJ, and public LJ entries get mirrored here on the Goodreads blog, but here's an additional, and surely controversial, quote that also caught my eye:

Being able to whip her reassured him in possession. No brutal beating at all. He just slapped her around a bit to show he was boss. Everybody talked about it next day in the fields. It aroused a sort of envy in both men and women. The way he petted and pampered her as if those two or three face slaps had nearly killed her made the women see visions and the helpless way she hung on him made men dream dreams.

Surely a quote to elicit horror nowadays, but a couple of things struck me: first, that in the relationship, Tea Cake isn't boss; they're a very equal couple in every way. Second, that ZNH stresses the difference between this display and what she characterizes as a brutal beating. And then the last part, about the women seeing visions and the men dream dreams--everyone is jealous of this relationship.

Nowadays we really, really don't like any violence in relationships outside of game playing, and we like the game playing to be VERY CLEARLY MARKED as such. So I wonder what people make of this quote, and whether it detracts from, enhances, or has no effect on their feeling about the book. I'll tip my hand and say that I found it an astute observation of human nature. ( )
  FrancescaForrest | May 12, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (17 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Zora Neale Hurstonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gates Jr., Henry LouisAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Washington, Mary HelenForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To Henry Allen Moe
First words
Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board.
When I first read Their Eyes Were Watching God, in the early 1970's, I devoured it as one devours the most satisfying romantic fiction - the kind that stems from reality and that can, in the broadest sense, become real for oneself. (Introduction)
I first encountered Zora Neale Hurston in an Afro-American literature course I took in graduate school. (Afterword)
Quotations
This singing she heard that had nothing to do with her ears. the rose of the world was breathing out smell. It followed her through all her waking moments and caressed her in her sleep. It connected itself with other vaguely felt matters that had struck her outside observation and buried themselves in her flesh. Now they emerged and quested about her consciousness...

She was stretched on her back beneath the pear tree soaking in the alto chant of the visiting bees, the gold of the sun and the panting breath of the breeze when the inaudible voice of it all came to her.
Love is lak de sea. It's uh movin' thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it's different with every shore.
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Book description
This is the story a girl who searches for the love she believes is true. Throughout her struggles she gains strength, independence, and wisdom. She overcomes the obstacles in her path to chase her dreams and they take her places she never thought she'd end up.

We read this book for class last year. And I don't like Janie at all. I think she's flighty, annoying, childish, and selfish. I don't like Janie but I do like what she learns throughout her life. I appreciate that she is determined and willing to fight for what she wants and believes.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0061120065, Paperback)

At the height of the Harlem Renaissance during the 1930s, Zora Neale Hurston was the preeminent black woman writer in the United States. She was a sometime-collaborator with Langston Hughes and a fierce rival of Richard Wright. Her stories appeared in major magazines, she consulted on Hollywood screenplays, and she penned four novels, an autobiography, countless essays, and two books on black mythology. Yet by the late 1950s, Hurston was living in obscurity, working as a maid in a Florida hotel. She died in 1960 in a Welfare home, was buried in an unmarked grave, and quickly faded from literary consciousness until 1975 when Alice Walker almost single-handedly revived interest in her work.

Of Hurston's fiction, Their Eyes Were Watching God is arguably the best-known and perhaps the most controversial. The novel follows the fortunes of Janie Crawford, a woman living in the black town of Eaton, Florida. Hurston sets up her characters and her locale in the first chapter, which, along with the last, acts as a framing device for the story of Janie's life. Unlike Wright and Ralph Ellison, Hurston does not write explicitly about black people in the context of a white world--a fact that earned her scathing criticism from the social realists--but she doesn't ignore the impact of black-white relations either:

It was the time for sitting on porches beside the road. It was the time to hear things and talk. These sitters had been tongueless, earless, eyeless conveniences all day long. Mules and other brutes had occupied their skins. But now, the sun and the bossman were gone, so the skins felt powerful and human. They became lords of sounds and lesser things. They passed nations through their mouths. They sat in judgment.
One person the citizens of Eaton are inclined to judge is Janie Crawford, who has married three men and been tried for the murder of one of them. Janie feels no compulsion to justify herself to the town, but she does explain herself to her friend, Phoeby, with the implicit understanding that Phoeby can "tell 'em what Ah say if you wants to. Dat's just de same as me 'cause mah tongue is in mah friend's mouf."

Hurston's use of dialect enraged other African American writers such as Wright, who accused her of pandering to white readers by giving them the black stereotypes they expected. Decades later, however, outrage has been replaced by admiration for her depictions of black life, and especially the lives of black women. In Their Eyes Were Watching God Zora Neale Hurston breathes humanity into both her men and women, and allows them to speak in their own voices. --Alix Wilber

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:24:42 -0400)

(see all 9 descriptions)

Meet the unforgettable Janie Crawford, an articulate African-American woman in the 1930s. Traces Janie's quest for identity, through three marriages, on a journey to her roots. When Janie Starks returns to her rural Florida home, her small black community is overwhelmed with curiosity about her relationship with a younger man.… (more)

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