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Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale…
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Their Eyes Were Watching God (original 1937; edition 2006)

by Zora Neale Hurston

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11,853193224 (3.97)1 / 669
Member:redbone
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
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Tags:black feminism, fiction

Work details

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

  1. 113
    The Color Purple by Alice Walker (aleahmarie)
  2. 50
    Beloved by Toni Morrison (BookshelfMonstrosity)
  3. 10
    The Awakening by Kate Chopin (CGlanovsky)
    CGlanovsky: Strong female protagonist causes a stir in a male-dominated society by going after the things she wants.
  4. 10
    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)
1930s (16)
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Showing 1-5 of 191 (next | show all)
I liked the subtle character development of Janie as she transitioned between the different stages of her life; Hurston's little easter eggs throughout the book really opened my eyes and made me understand how deeply sexism and racism were embedded in society.

It was a little hard for me to understand the long patches of dialogue because they were written in the slang and words of the community at the time. Although this contributed to the authenticity, I just felt like it was hard to process. ( )
  CatherineHsu | Jun 8, 2016 |

Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston
4 stars

This is a woman’s story. Janie isn’t an important person. She’s an ordinary woman looking for happiness and a fulfillment that she can’t quite define. I liked Janie and I especially liked the voice of the author as she commented on Janie’s thoughts and behavior. There were endless passages that I wanted to highlight so I wouldn’t forget them.

“She didn’t read books, so she didn’t know that she was the world and the heavens boiled down to a drop”

“She got so she received all things with the solidness of the earth which soaks up urine and perfume with the same indifference.”

“She felt like slapping some of them around grinning at her like a pack of chessy cats, trying to make out they looked like love.”


I liked Janie and I loved the poetic narrator’s voice, but I had trouble with the story. There were a number of dramatic events, but few of them seemed to be told with a great deal of tension. I didn’t find Teacake to be as charming and attractive as Janie did, and this caused me to lose interest in the best part of her life story. I really wish that Hurston had given more details about Janie’s trial, but at that point it seemed that she was rushing to get to the end. Overall, the book gave me a great deal to think about. I’m very glad that I read it.
( )
  msjudy | May 30, 2016 |
Their Eyes Were Watching God is filled with breathtakingly beautiful prose. It will stop you in your tracks, stun you with its simplistic perfection. It soars to timeless heights, transcending race, region, era, and gender, speaking to truths found in every human heart.
Yet make no mistake – this is a feminist work. And the fact that this feminist work, focusing on a black woman just two generations past slavery, written by a black woman not unlike her main character, was published in 1937, makes my heart very happy. Echoing Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, Hurston’s seminal work offers the woman’s experience from a very different background than Chopin’s Edna Pontellier. Yet the yearnings of both Edna and Janie are the same. The desires to get living, to experience more, to reject rigid boundaries set by others, are the same in both women. Seeing this expressed by such different American women about other American women serves to bring us together in our shared experience.
Janie is raised by her grandmother, a former slave who was raped by her former master. Her mother is raped by her schoolteacher, and leaves Janie to be raised by the grandmother. So while Janie is undoubtedly considered by society to be of African descent, she is also recognized in her community as someone a bit apart. Her appearance gives her some perks, but no one really accounts for the weight that comes with the facts of Janie’s existence. Janie doesn’t seem to take it into account, either, but the modern reader can’t avoid it.
Her grandmother finds an opportunity to set Janie up in a “good” marriage, and does so, with no regard for young Janie’s feelings or dreams. Janie eventually leaves this arrangement for one she prefers. But there she finds herself again with a man who wants to control her, to manage her, her mind, her spirit, and her beauty. Janie’s life, then, comes about as borne from a struggle to just be herself. It is amazing how often we find ourselves fighting to just be ourselves.
My biggest problem with the book is the dialect. I get Hurston wrote it like this purposely– it would have lost so much of its soul if it was written in any other voice. It had to be written in the voices of the characters Hurston was giving life to. However, reading this 75 years later, it’s work to get through it. These 193 pages took me about a week to finish, because I almost felt like I was reading a translation. It slows you down. It’s not a reason to avoid the book. But be prepared for it. This is something I should have been able to read in a day, but that wasn’t possible.


( )
  LauraCerone | May 26, 2016 |
I thought this was an incredible book. The novel is about Janie, a young black woman determined to live life on her own terms, hemmed in by other people's notions of who she should be and what is good for her. Told in vernacular dialect, there is an honesty about the lives of the characters that lifts them above stereotype and caricature. Janie lives her life in pursuit of her dreams, heading out to the horizon and refusing to be curtailed by anyone. It's an important book, not just for what it teaches us about black lives in early 20th century America, but for what it teaches us about community and individualism. ( )
  missizicks | May 2, 2016 |
Admit I spent years unfairly biased against this book because so many people told me I should read this for its literary significance - Harlem Renaissance, New Negro Movement, etc. If only they'd told me I should read it because it's a moving and gorgeously written narrative, perhaps I wouldn't have waited so long! For those of you who many be in the same boat, let me allay your fears: this isn't a militant polemic against racism, nor the self-conscious, bloated "trophy novel" of a literary giant, nor the product of a specific time and ethos ... this is just really good storytelling, ageless and affecting in all the ways good storytelling should be.

This story narrates the life of Janie, an African-American woman growing up in Florida in the early 20th century. Yes, it was an era when racism was rife, and racism shapes the paths of her life in a thousand explicit and implicit ways, but this isn't primarily a story about racism: it's about a woman finding the courage to pursue what makes her happy, even as social norms and customs work actively to thwart her. In Janie's case, all she wants is not to have to pretend to be something she's not. Discarding husbands along the way, she finally finds happiness with a man years younger than herself - a fitting match(at last) for her young soul. In this era of modern, self-realized feminism, her patient acceptance of unhappiness, exploitation, and abuse may grate, but I believe Hurston is doing no more than painting Janie's story with the colors of her own life and times.

At the time it was published, I gather this book was not well received by Hurston's Harlem peers. I see their point (or I think I see it) - many of the secondary characters in the tale seem plucked straight out of a "common black stereotypes" casting call. There's her second husband, the Carpetbagger, fast-talking and slick and not above exploiting his fellow African-Americans; her best friend, the Patient Black Woman selflessly putting everyone else's happiness before her own; her third husband, a happy-go-lucky Mr. Bojangles; and a whole posses of straw-chewing, tall-tale-telling Old Black Men gathered wherever there's a porch and a checkerboard to host them. Again, I think this is just Hurston painting with the palette she knows, bravely (much like her heroine Janie) writing what made her happy rather than what her peers thought she ought to be writing.

Another criticism I've heard of the book is that Hurston's use of dialect can make this a slow read. For that reason I deliberately listened to it as an audiobook, narrated by actress/poet/journalist/civil rights activist Ruby Dee. Through her interpretation, any barriers between the reader and the language quickly melts away in a flood of appreciation for the uniquely authentic and evocative speech patterns and lyric metaphorical allusions employed by Hurston's rich and complex subculture. Seriously, some of the figurative language is so stunningly expressive, at times I had to stop reading and just pause to appreciate it.

As for that title, "Their Eyes Were Watching God" ... I suppose you could interpret it a lot of ways. Based on the context in which it is used in the story, though, I think it's meant to communicate the profound fragility of the lives these characters lead. None of us control our destiny, but surely this is even more profoundly true of African-Americans in mid-20th century U.S. Characters like Janie and Teacake may possess internal strength, but each of them accepts without question that they are creatures of fickle and unjust fate. What, then, to do, but embrace the moments of happiness God grants them, understanding that at any time - for reasons they will never be able to predict, control or comprehend - He may pull the rug out from under them?

I hope this review encourages others to give this a read, and I especially encourage book clubs to consider adding this to their reading lists. There's so much here to discuss, ponder, and appreciate. ( )
1 vote Dorritt | Apr 12, 2016 |
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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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Dedication
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.
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.
Haiku summary

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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:31 -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)

(summary from another edition)

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