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Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale…

Their Eyes Were Watching God (original 1937; edition 2006)

by Zora Neale Hurston

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Title:Their Eyes Were Watching God
Authors:Zora Neale Hurston
Info:Harper Perennial Modern Classics (2006), Edition: 1st ed., Paperback, 219 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:black feminism, fiction

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


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My daughter had to read this for one of her English classes in high school last year or the year before. So after her class was done with it, I read it too, & fell in love with the story. The dialect is a little hard to get used to at first, but if you've spent any time in the South, I think it comes easier than if you have not, because that's the way you hear people speak down here. At least still in some places. ( )
  Lisa.Johnson.James | Apr 17, 2014 |
“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”

-Zora Neale Hurston

You are not ethnic-bound to the majority of the books you read. The characters are in costumes that you wouldn't wear except when it’s Halloween Party or in fancy school play. They talk in different languages, sometimes they use strings of old poetic words, and they are always snatched by the fingers of Fate to be put in the middle of strange circumstances—way different from your just-get-through-the-day life. They belonged to different cultures, different time, and different sociopolitical landscapes. The lead characters often have supra-normal guts to undertake an adventure, or some magical powers or above average will to counter clandestine forces. It is not a problem for a reader. Lying on a disheveled bed, or sitting thoughtfully, you read books until you were seized by physical stillness and until your mind was being transported by crazy time and space mechanism to eras or centuries or countries you would never physically find yourself into—to Austen’s parties, Dicken’s filthy buildings, Bronte’s meadows, Salinger’s snowy streets, Orwell’s Room 101, Crichton’s laboratories, Grisham’s court rooms. Everywhere. You are in your soiled clothes of yesterday in your usual lazy mood, annoyed by the latest pop songs banging from the neighbor; acquired social media fatigue for these past months—until you held a book close to your face, you forgot about the world around you, until your heart was drenched with that heavy sense of affinity to that character in the story. A sense of something so universal that the existential boundary between you and the book would fade.

Reading Zora Neale Hurston Their Eyes Were Watching God, you have to exchange your comfy clothes to denim over-alls and watch the black rural life moving before you, the imagery of the fields in the early America dotted with the black bodies, with the notable figure of a slender mocha-skinned woman, arising from the background as she alternates planting beans and teasing her young husband. Later on, you have to leave the confinement of your room as you became exposed to the prying and judgmental eyes of the folks of Eatonville (a white-approved black village founded by Janie’s second husband, the late mayor Joe Starks) as you walked with Janie towards the big house she had left for a shanty. After the death of her Mayor husband, who unsuccessfully shackled her inner wild to remain a domesticated patriarchal possession, Janie left the town with a man seven years her junior, an obscure man known as Tea Cake. The day of her departure, she was clad in silky blue dress and drowned with happiness, with fat dollars clipped on her bosom. After few years, she returned, barefooted, in over-alls. Folks were strong in the notion that the vagabond Tea Cake exhausted the wealth of the widow, then left her with nothing. In retrospective tone and vivid flashback, the tired Janie recounted to her defender-friend Pheoby how she returned to Eatonville without anything but a memory of a true love and happiness.

Perhaps as a child then, you've learned the concept of marriage from the early drama series in television. Or maybe from random images of ladies in immaculate gown escorted by a man in black suit. Yes—from your flower girl/bible bearer days in your relatives’ wedding ceremonies. With young Janie Crawford, she discovered the idea of union in the bees plunging into the core of flowers. It is the coming-to-age and coming-to-awareness aspect of the book, the bee and flower symbol:

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 the tiniest branch creaming in every blossom and frothing with delight. So this was marriage! She had been summoned to behold a revelation.

There’s always that secret knowing inside of us. With Mr. Killick’s, Janie was intuitively convinced that there was no trace of “love embrace” in their marriage as arranged by Nanny, her grandmother. Love was not the driving force in such union, as Nanny, who was long-time tied to white ownership, had chosen the old Hogan Killicks for her husband due to his piece of land and peaceful life as a man-brute. Ole skullhead in de grave yard, as Janie first described him. In that way, Nanny’s suffering would be vindicated, all she dreamed of was seeing Janie sitting on a porch: for sitting was a luxury for a black slave. When Logan and Janie lie in one bed every night, there was no vision of the bees and flowers. One day, Janie after marital fury, slipped out of their house and waited for the ambitious Joe Starks by the road. There was something bigger than the privilege of sitting on the porch. With Joe Starks, it was about sitting on a throne.

With the black psyche dominated by thoughts of white omnipotence, it was first hard to believe for first settlers that a young newcomer with a beautiful wife could buy a vast land from his long-time earnings, sell them to potential occupants, widen the demography of the impoverished and anarchic settlement and established a town with a post-office. Joe Starks did it, with his polished suit and commanding presence; he was so great that the people unanimously chose him as their mayor, so great that his own wife, Mrs. Joe Starks, would vocally likened him to Abraham Lincoln. The Starks became pseudo-white couple to the residents, powerful and established. Janie was told to remain inside the store and to serve him his meals religiously. We guess that it was an ethnic Cinderella story.

After Mayor Starks died, Janie left Eatonville and her great house; she eloped with a penniless young man who would accompany her to fishing lakes and picnics and firing practices.

Janie was a scandalous, morally loose, indecent, childishly active, discontented, ungrateful widow of a great man that was Joe Starks.

But with Tea Cake, all was bees and flowers and that was the only thing that had been important to her throughout her story. With Tea Cake she was springing with life and vital force akin to personal freedom.

Undress, throw your over-alls, and wipe your oily forehead. Let us sing and dance with Janie and Tea Cake. The community they were in was a melting point of agricultural tribes; there were always merriment, laughter, and food. Tea Cake was respected for the natural charm of his wit. And Janie’s beauty was well-known. It was a life in simple bliss and overflowing love in a ragged abode and self-sustaining planting. It was also a life of tragic outcome and of the subservience to omnipotence of an unknown great force that has been thwarting man’s ideals since the beginning of time. Their eyes were watching God as he showed his deadly maneuverings.

Hurston’s Their Eyes is in part a story of tragic love, and a part about personal triumph. Hurston's use of the charm of the English language as naturally spoken by the blacks in her book added a realistic quality, although the narration is highly poetic. The book is not ashamed of the blacks' affinity to the rural and to the agricultural, and to the rowdy and frivolous common black life---great black writer Richard Wright used to bash Hurston over Their Eyes. Unlike ideologically fueled literature known to activists of that time, the interpretation of events in the novel is so intimate and simple that we cry when Janie had chosen to live as an heir to a lovely memory.

We waltz with Janie with her phantasm of Tea Cake in the end of the story—despite the hostile judgment of the world, and the limiting prescriptions of sociocultural realm, we have learned to be comfortable with our own ambition to attain what is good and noble, and to run from what is bad for our souls, yes, through the eyes of the carefree Janie. Reading it is worth the smears of soil in our pants. ( )
  bgrete | Mar 14, 2014 |
a little hard to digest the dialogue. sad book. ( )
  lanthanides | Mar 12, 2014 |
4.5/5She had been getting ready for her great journey to the horizons in search of people; it was important to all the world that she should find them and they find her. But she had been whipped like a cur dog, and run off down a back road after things.What do you live for? Love? Security? Money? Hope? There's something to said for any of them in every combination with one another, the melding usually a three of the four legs of a stool that is never quite stable. A great deal of literature is generated by that shakiness, that unsturdy swaying as time sends the legs protruding and withdrawing, thinning and thickening as one attempts to keep their balance in the constant effort to reach. A great deal of debate is generated by those variables in flux, questions of what is worthy of thought, form, and the crying out of the body, mind, and soul.

Do you know what should always be given priority in literature all day, every day, factoring in all the issues of both reality and culture, of faith and physical function? I certainly don't. Not even my love of social justice blinds me to the strength of Hurston's beliefs, her desire to see black literature in US reflecting more than the all too consuming racism. Her effort to write with the goal of "racial health—a sense of black people as complete, complex, undiminished human beings, a sense that is lacking in so much black writing in literature", as so wonderfully stated by Alice Walker.She got nothing from Jody except what money could buy, and she was giving away what she didn't value.I loved [b:Native Son|15622|Native Son|Richard Wright|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1386923241s/15622.jpg|3159084], I'm well aware of Trayvon Martin and the far too many others like him, I appreciate Richard Wright for writing on such a powerful issue that affects the US to this day, but I hate him for his decrying of Hurston and all that she wrote for. He is Jody, capable of great things with his ideas of equality, progress, and men, writer of brilliant sociological treatises and powerful indictments of racism at the expense of only a few 'girlfriends in a refrigerator.' Idealistic as it is to argue for that 'only', foolish as it is to dream beyond the Titan of whites and their institutional oppression of blacks, selfish as it that a story grants love and financial stability to a black woman, the unlikeliest of unlikelihoods, here we are."They's mighty particular how dese dead folks goes tuh judgment," Tea Cake observed to the man working next to him."Look lak dey think God don't know nothin' 'bout de Jim Crow law."While racism is factored into the book, it is not allowed to hollow out the heart and reign in the center of things. Here, it is only a single factor in the lives of black people, replete with life, love, every facet of culture from dialect to public life. Perhaps more suspension of disbelief is required for reading such a story where hope is not immediately shackled to threat and made to understand who is king. Perhaps it is the lack of a king that is the most unsettling, his grandiose ideals of money always before love turned on its head by the queen with her own views of a life worth living. Equal rights and financial stability are all very well, but the patriarchy is not the highest one should be hoping for."...Dat's whut she wanted for me—don't keer whut it cost. Git up on uh high chair and sit dere. She didn't have time tuh think what tuh do after you got up on de stool uh do nothin'. De object wuz tuh git dere. So Ah got up on de high school lak she told me, but Pheoby, Ah done nearly languished tuh death up dere. Ah felt like de world wuz cryin' extry and Ah ain't read de common news yet."

"Maybe so, Janie. Still and all Ah'd love tuh experience it for just one year. It look lak heben tuh me from where Ah'm at."

"Ah reckon so."
Here's to Zora Neale Hurston for going against the flow. Here's to Alice Walker who brought her back to the seat of honor she so richly deserves. Here's to authors seeing the value in their beliefs without stomping on those of others.

Here's to a book that not only lives, but celebrates. ( )
  Korrick | Feb 26, 2014 |
On a trip to Russia in 1991, I enjoyed this book so much I hated to finish and return to academic readings. The book gave me a vivid sense of my American home, even though I wasn't born yet in the era of the novel's setting and am not of African heritage. The character & adventures of Hurston's protagonist maintain strong interest & sympathy. She is a woman of misfortunes who never compromises (at least not for long) in her search for love & happiness. Normally a more critical reader, I found myself wishing I could meet this determined woman and make her my friend. At least it was possible to spend an enjoyable time in her presence. Loved the language & communicative tone. ( )
  AnesaMiller | Feb 26, 2014 |
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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.
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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)

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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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