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It has been a long time since I’ve written a book review. Honestly, it has been a long time since I’ve read a book. Usually by the end of the day, I just want to veg in front of the TV and play Bejeweled on my phone. Focusing on words is the last thing I want to do. But I’ve set a reading goal of 6 books for this year on Goodreads, and I promise to succeed.
Title: Their Eyes Were Watching God
Author: Zora Neale Hurston
ABOUT THE BOOK (from the book)
In the beginning, there was Nanny. Nanny knew what it meant to be a slave to men. And Nanny had a daughter. She saw what happened to her, how she chose to escape pain in oblivion. And Nanny was scared. She was so scared that she wanted to prevent the same thing from happening to her daughter’s daughter, even if it meant that she had to force her grandchild to be unhappy. As long as she was unhappy in a different, secure way, with an old and stable man by her side.
That is the background of Janie Crawford’s story. She is in her early forties, and starts telling a friend her life story in beautiful, colloquial language. And what a life it is! So common and typical, and yet individually painful and loving.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Zora Neale Hurston was an American author, anthropologist, and film maker.
Their Eyes Were Watching God is the story of Janie, a southern Black woman who is searching for love and affirmation in 1930’s Florida. The story begins with Janie returning to home after an extended absence. Upon her return, Janie shares her life story with her best friend and confidant, Phoeby. Janie is the biracial child of rape, which is used to explain her beauty in a world perverted by colorism. Her grandmother, knowing that she is dying, forces Janie to marry an older man to provide financial security and physical stability. Janie exists within the marriage as long as she can, but she eventually runs off with Jody. Jody is a dreamer who promises her all the things she lacks in her current marriage: love, excitement, and intimacy.
In her desire to escape her loveless marriage, Janie may have overlooked some deep seated character flaws within Jody. Jody is strong willed and domineering. His presence ends up overtaking Janie and swallowing her voice to the point where it only becomes a mental running commentary. Towards the end of his life, Janie finds her voice and lets Jody know what she thinks of him and their marriage. After his death, Janie finds true love with Tea Cake, a much younger man.
Janie and Tea Cake build a life together in an all Black town in the the bean fields of Florida. Janie challenges stereotypes by working in the fields alongside Tea Cake and the other Blacks in their adopted community. It’s during this time that Janie discovers a sense of self and personal satisfaction. During the hurricane, Janie discovers her physical strength and endurance. But it’s also during this time that Janie must find the courage to fight for herself.
From her narrative, we learn that Janie is a complex character. While it seems as if she is a passive participant in her life, Janie participates as much as she can within the parameters of her existence as a woman of color in the 1930’s. Her grandmother raised her to be a fixture – a pretty piece – because, as a former slave, that was the epitome of freedom.
This novel is tightly written and well worth its place on the list of classic African American literature. Hurston’s storytelling is so vivid that I felt as if I were sitting on the porch listening as the men played the dozens or hanging with Janie and Tea Cake while they danced the night away.
I’d recommend this novel for book clubs as there are so many opportunities for discussion: character development, dialect, friendship, marriage, the role of women, colorism, racism, and power.
This book contains portrayals of rape, domestic violence, and death.
MY FAVORITE PASSAGE
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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