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Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale…

Their Eyes Were Watching God (original 1937; edition 1986)

by Zora Neale Hurston, Sherley Anne Williams (Afterword), Holly Eley (Introduction), Zadie Smith (Introduction)

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11,156166251 (3.98)1 / 619
Title:Their Eyes Were Watching God
Authors:Zora Neale Hurston
Other authors:Sherley Anne Williams (Afterword), Holly Eley (Introduction), Zadie Smith (Introduction)
Info:Virago Press (1986), Paperback, 297 pages
Collections:Your library

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

  1. 93
    The Color Purple by Alice Walker (aleahmarie)
  2. 40
    Beloved by Toni Morrison (BookshelfMonstrosity)
  3. 00
    Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: Kincaid and Hurston have each set their moving, character-driven novels in atmospheric, sunny settings -- the Caribbean, and Florida respectively. Both novels explore haunting truths about identity, society, friendship and love as an African-American female protagonist gains new self-awareness and respect for her experiences.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 164 (next | show all)
This book gets better every time I read it. Or perhaps I am a better reader as I get older. I find myself referring back to Their Eyes over and over. ( )
  LauraCLM | May 7, 2015 |
This book is a classical book of fiction about an Afro-American woman writer and her story of the life of a woman from the backwaters of Florida and the lessons of life she learns as she evolves into her selfhood through three marriages and a life of poverty, trials and purpose. This is not a novel that demonstrates the spiritual strength of women but it does demonstarate the fact that Afro-American women can have spiritual strength and fortitude for the vicissitudes of life. ( )
  mrkurtz | Apr 14, 2015 |
Janie Crawford is a teenager when her grandmother, a former slave, arranges her marriage to the stolid farmer Logan Killicks to secure her future. Janie has more romantic notions, and rebels after her grandmother dies, spontaneously taking off with the ambitious Joe Sparks, who is passing through on the way to Eatonville Florida. Joe is soon running the town as businessman and mayor, but treats Janie as a showpiece, blocking her participation in the social network that he deems beneath their status. Janie remains stoically submissive for twenty years, until Joe dies; then, courted by any number of respectable and established men, she instead chooses the charming drifter Vergible Woods - “Tea Cake”. As the novel begins, Janie has gone away with Tea Cake and returned without him; she passes through the cluster of porch gossips and tells the story privately to her friend Phoeby Walker. (How did Phoeby Walker become her friend? This is never quite clear.) This is a novel of a time and a place and a culture, depicted in anecdotes with Gullah dialect. I expected the dialect to be a problem, but its effect was to make me pay attention to details.
  qebo | Mar 15, 2015 |
After two loveless marriages, Janie finally awakens to love, happiness and self-realization when she meets Tea Cake and elopes with him to the Florida Everglades.

It too me a long time to get to this book, and was I missing out. Hurston is such a terrific writer; she blows pretty much everyone else I've been reading lately out of the water. Her writing is lush, sensual, evocative and much sexier than Fifty Shades of Gray or whatever the kids are reading nowadays. She writes about the natural world and how we as human beings are a part of it, not separate from it or above it, as we like to pretend, that we are subject to overwhelming natural forces like sex and hurricanes, and we should allow ourselves to be carried along by them. In so doing, we open ourselves up to becoming fully ourselves, completely engaged with life and all its joys and tragedies. This book has so many truths to offer that it requires multiple rereadings, and I look forward to the next time I pick it up and let it enchant me.

Read in 2015 in honor of Black History Month. ( )
  sturlington | Feb 26, 2015 |
I didn't like all the essays in Zadie Smith's Changing My Mind, but the piece about Their Eyes Were Watching God was excellent - and all the more likeable to me because she talked about her teenage reluctance to a) have the cultural background of one side of her family foisted on her when she was more interested in other things; and b) read this book because of the demographics of the author. She was, of course, surprised to find that she loved the book when she finally did read it. And I was one of the readers she persuaded to pick it up.

Other selling points are that it's a mostly positive book in a subgenre that's full of misery, about a character who doesn't feel particularly constrained by traditional attitudes and ideas about how a woman should be. If you had reservations about The Color Purple, there's no need to be put off by Alice Walker's association with this book. [Pre GR my experience was that The Color Purple was almost universally disliked among people I'd heard talk about it. The GR ratings tell a different story.] Walker's book and this one, a clear influence on it, simply have era and the use of dialect in common. Hurston's writing is far better and livelier.

There's a vast amount of material online about TEWWG already if you want information and academic analysis. These are just things I want to remember and which, in some instances, surprised me.

- The metaphors and images are fresh and startling, as if they were from a country whose literature is unfamiliar. Not from an American classic. Hurston's background as a folklore collector comes through in descriptions like that of Death, containing a few familiar features, but others evidently from traditions I don't know. The known is grounding, the unknown exciting and together it works brilliantly.

- Criticism Hurston received from her contemporaries, e.g from Richard Wright - for not being social-realist enough (though this book is plenty kitchen sink to someone who knows that British movement) - and from a white critic who doubted the scenario, in TEWWG, of a town entirely populated and run by black people, bring to mind a parallel with the more recent 'gaytopia' subgenre and the criticisms and defences of it.

MILD SPOILERS FOLLOW. Big spoilers are in tags. I went into the book having forgotten most prior detail I'd heard about the plot, other than the blurb, and restarted the novel - but not the introduction - in 2014.)

- Janie at the start of the story, in her late teens, is kind of spoiled. To take a sentence from later in the book which sums up too much of the contents of my head: She found herself angry at imaginary people who might try to criticize. I know just the kind of holier-than-thou rants GR spews in reponse to characters who behave like young Janie, the word "entitled" being a particular favourite, but confoundingly I couldn't remember seeing any re TEWWG. Aside from the obvious 'she was seventeen; she grew out of it', there are other dimensions: at this point she is a rebalancing, a pendulum swinging far in the other direction from her grandmother's saying that the black woman is "the mule of the world". Society classes her as simply black, but she's also the daughter and grandaughter of two violent, hierarchical white men; she's had a loving upbringing which would greatly temper it, but possibly a propensity for arrogance is in her inheritance too - which under the right conditions becomes a kind of confidence that is unafraid to stand out from the crowd.
- She is never troubled by her origins. Like some awful background detail in a fairytale that was historically common, it's mentioned and that's that. Perhaps if born in the late 19th century African American South, it was so common to be recently descended from a slave owner or rapist that it wasn't something to be greatly remarked on (?) - and Janie has been sheltered from recent trauma by living with her grandmother - instead getting on with the here and now. TEWWG is a book that's very much in its present, in contrast to the vast pain of Beloved - the character of Beloved being a contemporary of Janie's grandma.

-I thought someone from Janie's hometown would turn up in Eatonville and expose her as a bigamist, but they never did.

- On to pleasanter things. That's the point of TEWWG after all. I rarely understand the attraction of romantic heroes in classic literature - but Tea Cake is obviously a lot of fun, and nice without being a faultless goody goody, so I could, for once, see why. Hurston writes some great scenes in which he and Janie bounce off each other, and even this embittered curmudgeon can be kind of excited for them. Their conversational chemistry is obvious in the most everyday exchanges without needing narrative - it brings back times with those rare people who made me feel like Katherine Hepburn in a screwball comedy.
The occasion when he beat her so the neighbours would know, is couched in such mischief and hints at enjoyment - she never sounds negatively affected by it as she did by Stark - reminds me of accounts from that SM subculture that plays with retro domestic violence scenes. It sounds like they were playing at it as a one off (and differently from their mutually physical arguments which would also be considered unacceptable today) whilst the other people in their community are simply caught in entrenched violent sexism.

- Overall-wearing Janie who's a better shot than her husband is very cool and not what you'd expect from the average 1930s book - and it's quite clear, in contrast to her teenage princessy self at the start, that she's more than happy to pull her weight if she's with the right person.

- I really enjoyed the hurricane scene and the action & excitement it added.

- I get on very well with semi-tragic endings like this. Far more so than with HEA. The whole portion of the book from the first hints of the hurricane to the end was just perfect in the way of things that kick into particular circuits. Maybe there's some corner of goths I can go to and talk about this so I don't offend everyone else.Main thing is though, they're not real.

I read a 1990s American Harper Perennial edition with foreword by Mary Helen Washington and afterword by Henry Louis Gates Jr. ( )
  antonomasia | Nov 7, 2014 |
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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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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)
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.
Janie saw her life like a great tree in leaf with the things suffered, things enjoyed, things done and undone. Dawn and doom was in the branches.
She saw a dust bearing bee sink into the sanctum of a bloom; the thousand sister calyxes arch to meet the love embrace and the ecstatic shiver of the tree from root to tiniest branch creaming in every blossom and frothing with delight. So this was a marriage!
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 feelings untouched by thought.
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Wikipedia in English (1)

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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