Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston

February 22, 2009 1001 Books, Reading Nook, Review 30

Title: Their Eyes Were Watching God
Author: Zora Neale Hurston
Date Finished: Feb 21, 2009 #8
Published: 1937 Pages: 184
Rating: 4.25/5

Well, I am happy to announce that my reader is now at zero. YAY!! And the classics challenge sign up is posted. And I’ll finish my quilt in the next few days (maybe even today!!). I’m feeling much more settled and caught up. But, I’m going to Hawaii on Saturday…so I’m guessing it will be back to normal when I return (normal=chaos).

I can’t believe I haven’t read Their Eyes Were Watching God until now. I’ve read a handful of Hurston’s short stories, and I’ve even seen the movie Oprah produced several years ago, but I never made time for the book. It’s only 184 pages long, but the story contains so much depth.

Their Eyes Were Watching God begins when forty-year-old Janie returns to her hometown ragged and worn, wearing overalls and her hair swinging down her back. The town is all a flutter at her return, speculating that her last husband, Tea Cake, has left her and run with her money. Janie sits down with her best friend Pheoby and tells her the true story of what has happened. Her story includes three marriages, a lot of heartache and a lot of love. World’s shortest summary, but because of the progressive nature of the story it is difficult to give more without spoilers.

The story is set during the Reconstruction era in the deep south. The characters are African American, so the themes of slavery and oppression and African American folklore are very prominent in the book. I loved the richness of this book and the language that Hurston uses to describe the feelings and emotions of the characters. On the other hand, she also writes in the vernacular of the people. At first this was difficult for me to read and it felt like I was trying to read a different language, but I finally got into the rhythm of the speech and the vernacular provided an extra layer of richness to the text.

Since I don’t really want to go more into the actual story, I’ll leave you with a few of my favorite lines (both to get a taste of the vernacular and Hurston’s descriptions).

Granny speaking to Janie about going out with men:
“Ah don’t want yo’ feathers always crumpled by folks throwin‘ up things in yo’ face. And Ah can’t die easy thinkin‘ maybe de menfolks white or black is makin‘ a spit cup outa out: Have some sympathy fuh me. Put me down easy, Janie, Ah’m a cracked plate” (19).

Janie on her first marriage:
“She knew things that nobody had ever told her. For instance, the words of the trees and the wind. She often spoke to the falling seeds and said, “Ah hope you fall on soft ground,” because she had heard seeds saying that to each other as they passed. She knew the world was a stallion rolling in the blue pasture of ether. She knew that God tore down the old world every evening and built a new one by sun-up…She knew now that marriage did not make love. Janie’s first dream was dead, so she became a woman” (24).

Janie on Tea Cake:
“She couldn’t make him look just like any other man to her. He looked like the love thoughts of women. He could be a bee to a blossom – a pear tree blossom in the spring. He seemed to be crushing scent out of the world with his footsteps. Crushing aromatic herbs with every step he took. Spices hung about him. He was a glance from God” (101).

Last line–maybe **spoiler**:
The kiss of his memory made pictures of love and light against the wall. Here was peace. She pulled in her horizon like a great fish-net. Pulled it from around the waist of the world and draped it over her shoulder. So much of life in its meshes! She called in her soul to come and see” (184).

Hope everyone’s having a happy Sunday!

30 Responses to “Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston”

  1. Amanda

    This is such a good book! I’ve heard a lot of people say they have a hard time with it because it’s written orally (if that makes sense – written the way everything sounded). They said once they started reading out loud, they got it. I didn’t have so much trouble with the language (I heard it in my head as if reading aloud). I only read this two years ago and it’s amazing. And it made me cry.

  2. Debi

    Oh my Trish, as much as I’ve heard about this book lately, yours is the first review that’s made me feel absolutely compelled to search this book out! So, should I thank you, or be mad at you for lengthening my wish list? ;)

    Hawaii?!! Oh, good for you, Trish! Hope you have the most fabulous time imaginable! (And try not to give that chaos that will await you a single thought while you’re gone…just enjoy!)

  3. Nymeth

    …and to my Classics Challenge list this goes. Judging by those passages, I think I’m going to love her writing.

    Hawaii! That’s awesome :D

  4. Darlene

    I hope you’ll post a pic of the finished quilt-I’d love to see it. You know I’ve never read this book either but I should. Have fun in Hawaii. I’m so jealous. I’d love to get away from this snow.

  5. Trish

    *Amanda – I did have a tough time with the language, and almost wrote something in my post about reading it aloud (I didn’t but can see how it would help). But the rest of the writing was so amazing. I knew the ending already from the movie, so it didn’t come as a surprise, but still so heartbreaking.

    *Bermuda – It was a very productive week for sure. Hope you like this one.

    *Debi – It’s hard to talk about this one without giving away too much, so I thought I’d let Hurston’s writing speak for itself. :) Can’t wait for Hawaii–it will be a great break.

    *Nymeth – This would be a great one for the classics challenge and the length definitely helps! I hope you like it.

    *Dar – I’ll definitely post a picture when I’m done–hopefully in the next few days! We’re not as cold here anymore, but it will be nice to be some place different.

    *Eva – I look forward to hearing what you have to say!

    *Literary Feline – Thanks–we’re really looking forward to the trip!

  6. Charley

    It’s been some years since I’ve read this, but I recall liking it. I hope you enjoy finishing your quilt and your trip to Hawaii.

  7. Thoughts of Joy

    Woo . . . Hawaii! I sending you happy traveling thoughts! :)

    I have this book on my TBR shelf and it hasn’t called me yet. I’m more interested in it now – thanks!

  8. Laura

    I’m glad you enjoyed this one. I had to read the quotes outloud that you included. I think that book would take me a very long time to read!

    Yay for getting caught up on life! :)

  9. Trish

    *Charley – I’m glad that you enjoyed this one as well–I can see myself reading it again.

    *Joy – The dialogue is a little intimidating (maybe that’s not the right word?), but Hurston’s descriptions are so wonderful.

    *Kim – I really liked the movie when I saw it years ago but I’m not sure why I waited so long to read the book. Hope you like it.

    *Laura – I’m having another mini quilt crisis so I’m avoiding again. There was SO much dialogue in this book and I thought about you reading UTC aloud. If I hadn’t read most of it at work I probably would have done the same. I would have gotten some mighty strange looks in the kitchen, though! :)

  10. Melody

    Sounds like a great read, Trish! I’m glad you enjoyed it. Now this means onto my wishlist it goes, hmph… LOL!

    I hope you’ve a great week ahead! :)

  11. Clover

    Hope you enjoy Hawaii. I’m jealous.

    I read this last year or the year before and I loved it. I thought the language in it was beautiful..

  12. Heather J.

    This has been one of my very favorite books since I first read it in high school. I got my book club to read it a few years ago and most of the gals really liked it as well. The audio version is great too!

  13. joanna

    I really liked this too, although I had some problems getting into the language… I love that quote about her first marriage, by the way!

  14. Trish

    *Melody – It’s a pretty short one, so it won’t take too long to read. Hope you like it!

    *Michelle – The language is really beautiful in this one. I usually don’t mark my books, but I kept a pencil handy because I was always wanting to remember a passage.

    *Heather – I’ve actually been surprised at how positive everyone’s reaction is to this one. It’s a great story, but it wasn’t an easy easy read. I bet the audio would be great for this one!!

    *Joanna – I had problems with the language as well. You’re not a native English speaker, right? I had to really think about how the words sounded in order to get the full impact of what was being said.

    *Shelley – My copy was only about 180 pages with relatively nice size font. I bet you could knock it out pretty quickly!

  15. Jeane

    I’ve tried to read this twice and did not get far; it’s still sitting on my shelf. Perhaps I ought to try reading it aloud, at least for the first bit to get a better feel of the flow.

  16. samantha.1020

    Hawaii!!! Do you think you can fit me in your suitcase? Just kidding…I’ve been meaning to read this book for awhile but haven’t picked it up. Glad to hear that you enjoyed it and enjoy your vacation!

  17. joanna

    Trish – I am actually a native English speaker – although I’m Polish, I grew up in NY and then went to American schools all over the world… But like you, I really had to think about the words. I got into it eventually though and it was worth persevering!

  18. Trish

    *Carolsnotebook – I think this one will stick with me for quite a while as well–I’d love to re-read some of those passages again.

    *Jeane – The language is really tough, and in the beginning I was reading it rather slowly. I finally got used to the rhythm of the language and being able to hear the words phonetically. But the non-dialogue excerpts are wonderful.

    *Sam – Hmmm–shoes or Sam? :) LOL–don’t think the suitcase will be big enough. anyway, hope you enjoy the book when you get to it!

    *Joanna – My apologies. I saw in your profile that you were living in Belgium and just made an assumption. :( How amazing that you’ve been able to live all around the world!

  19. Sarah

    I can relate to having a reader feed as long as War and Peace! Like yourself, I just try to accept that normal= chaos, and enjoy the posts I do read.

    I confess the language of Their Eyes Were Watching God has put me off, but your review has convinced me I should try it. Hope to enjoy it as much as you did.

  20. Trish

    *Natasha – We’re also going to Oahu. We’re staying at Waikiki Beach. Can’t wait!! :)

    *Sarah – The language was really hard for me to read at first. I was getting kind of discouraged because it felt like I was reading those parts so slowly (and there is a lot of dialogue!), but I finally got used to it. Hope you like it in the end.

    *Amy – Hope you like it! What class are you reading this for?

  21. Kari

    Hawaii… I hope you have a wonderful time!!! I’m so jealous!

    I actually had to read this book back in high school in one of my AP English classes and really really loved it. So much so that I gave it to my brother to read when I was finished.

    Great review by the way!

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