Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

eyeswatchinggod.jpgShips at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.”

That’s the beginning of Zora Neale Hurston’s masterpiece, Their Eyes were Watching God. This isn’t a book that you would normally find on my blog, but thanks to Becky’s book club, I decided to read it and I’m so glad that I did. It’s a true modern classic both in the tale it tells and the way in which it is told. Hurston’s writing is some of the finest that I have read. I commented on Becky’s blog that I could’ve filled a whole quotes journal with quotes from this book. She writes with such heartfelt grace and pours such soul into her characters. She has ways of describing scenes that are unimaginable yet perfect. No one else but Hurston could ever come up with the some of the phrases that she so beautifully puts together.

She alters between the vivid, more literary descriptions given in her narrative and the African American dialect of the south right after the abolition of slavery used in the dialogue. The latter took some getting used to for me at first before it began to flow, but once I got used to it, it really brought the characters to life. The story centers around Janie who is born right after slavery is abolished. Janie is an incredibly strong woman who has much to overcome despite being born a “free” black woman. She is married to two men who still treat her somewhat like a slave before meeting a man who truly treats her well despite a few flaws in my opinion. But even with this marriage, she is doomed to struggle and forced to keep her strong exterior.

This is a novel of fighting…of overcoming things that most of us can’t even imagine having to overcome. I shouldn’t speak so generally. I should just speak for myself. When I read novels like this, it really makes me think of how far the world has come and how far we still have to go. Janie was a black woman in the late 1800’s. She was fictional of course, but there were many women like her. While many faced few problems, black women passed their lives silently each day letting things slip by that shouldn’t have…and it still happens today. Janie did of course grow a voice for herself and black women have grown a much bigger voice for themselves today. But they still remain a minority. There is still that word – minority. Hurston has certainly written a powerful, beautiful, meaningful, and thought provoking novel here and I’m sure it has made many think as much as it has me.

I leave you with another quote that I absolutely loved: “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.”


23 Responses

  1. Wow, this sounds like such a beautiful book. Zora Neale Hurston is an always I’ve always wanted to try, and I want to even more now after reading your review. If there’s a Southern Literature challenge again this year I’ll most likely use it as an excuse to read this one.

  2. Oh, this does sound like a wonderful book. I really love the quote you left us with at the end…beautiful.

  3. I’m always really, really hesitant of books that use some kind of accented English instead of regular English; it takes me forever to read, and I start to resent the author, lol. That said, I understand why she wrote it that way, and maybe some day I’ll get to this one!

  4. I remember the TV movie with Halle Berry. I’m putting this on the TBR list. At this rate, I’ll read it in 2020!

  5. Nymeth, I’d definitely give this one a try if you do the Southern Reading Challenge again this year. You’d like it for sure. You see, she’s not an author I’ve always wanted to read, so I’m really glad that I stepped out of my boundaries for this one. It was such a beautiful book!

    Debi, It was a wonderful book! I liked that quote too. It was towards the end of the book. There were so many beautiful quotes throughout the book and I could’ve picked any of them. I think I only picked that one because it was one of the last I read!

    Eva, I’m usually hesitant of books like this one too. They drive me nuts and this one did too at first, but once I got used to the dialect and it became clear in my head, I loved it. This one’s available on audiobook too, so that may be a good choice for this one. It would be a great way to experience this book.

    Other Chris, I’ll definitely be checking out the movie! Dying to see it now. I think I may have seen it, but I don’t remember. Hope you enjoy the book in 2020 πŸ˜‰ I know exactly what you mean!

  6. Chris, it was fun to read your final thoughts. I’ve got today’s entry up finally. But Wednesdays are always my busy days. πŸ™‚ I’ll do a regular review in a day or two. (Maybe today if I build up energy!) If I could make this book required reading, I would. But I know the whole concept of “required” anything can sap the fun out of it. πŸ™‚ But the book is just so so so beautiful.

    Eva, I’m going to second Chris’ suggestion for the audio book on this one. They have almost all of the first chapter online that you can listen to. If my library had had a copy, I would have listened to this one. It’s narrated by Ruby Dee and from what I’ve heard it sounds wonderful.

  7. Becky, It was a great read! So glad you picked it…I just wish more people would’ve participated 😦 Should def. be required reading. I didn’t know Ruby Dee did the reading! That’s awesome. I really want to hear it now!

  8. I’m with you, Chris. More people would have been great. But I’m just glad you participated πŸ™‚ Else I would have been all lonesome. Maybe in the future, more people will join. The second book will be Sense and Sensibility. (But no pressure to participate!). And the third book–indicated by the poll will be Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer. I hope they’ll be a big turn out for that. And that I do hope–really hope–you’ll join in on that one. It is one of my favorite, favorites. And I’m curious to see what you think about it. I’m not sure if that will be April or May. Any thoughts? I promise I’ll squeeze Speak in though. It just might take a few months. I need to read it by June 30th for the Book Awards challenge, so sometime between now and then, it’ll happen. πŸ™‚

  9. I’m definitely in for Life as We Knew It…still not sure about Sense and Sensibility, though I’m debating it! Great to hear about Speak…anything that I can knock off the challenge list makes me happy πŸ˜‰

  10. I totally loved the movie of Sense and Sensibility. Emma Thompson did the screenplay and of course starred in it. (and I was in love with Col. Brandon!! ../ Alan Rickman) But I don’t think I would have enjoyed reading the book, I think I could see where parts would be drawn out and a bit “boring”… but the movie was great! LOL (well.. I liked it!)

  11. Deslily, I don’t know if I’d like the Sense and Sensibility book either…I’m considering it..we’ll see. I still haven’t ventured into Jane Austen though, so we’ll see if I like her or not!

  12. Ever read of mules and men? If you like folklore….a really good book. -C

  13. Dialect is an interesting thing. It’s almost never a good idea because it can be so jarring, but on the very rare occasions when it’s done well, it’s stunning.

  14. I love the ending quote *except* for the fact that I hate vernacular. My eldest read this book as an assigned read and wailed about the misery of reading dialect. I have to agree; it’s not my thing. I didn’t realize she alternated between dialect and narrative, though — silly kid didn’t tell me that. So, okay, I might give in and read it some day. Then I’ll have to blame you. I put a “Let’s Blame Chris” button in my sidebar. It’ll be interesting to see if anyone even notices. πŸ™‚

  15. I remember seeing part of the TV movie, but sadly all I saw was the ending, so I know how it ends but not how it starts…. not my favorite way to get into a book!

    However, I shall have to give it a try. It sounds like a very good book!

  16. Carole, I had never heard of “Of Mules and Men” but it’s on my wishlist now! I just found out that there’s an audiobook version read by Ruby Dee…I’d love to hear that…may have to check that out. Definitely want to look into more Hurston.

    Heather, It’s definitely stunning in this case…at least in my opinion. I agree though that when it doesn’t work, it really doesn’t work! It’s been the end of many a book for me!

    Bookfool, Ha!!! A “Let’s Blame Chris” button πŸ™‚ I love it! I feel all special. Now we just need that bumper sticker…..As for Their Eyes Were Watching God, it is such a beautiful book. The dialogue really works in this book. It was a turn off to me at first only because it took me awhile to get used to, but once I got used to it, it added so much to the book and I couldn’t see it written any other way. This book is a quote lover’s dream….such beautiful passages, I just got lost in it sometimes. I think I would’ve wailed about it too though if I would’ve had to read this in high school or even college as assigned reading. I’m glad I read it as an adult on my own…there are so many books that I read in high school that I’m sure were such wonderful books. One that comes to mind is Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart…hated it in high school, but I really think I’d like it if I read it now…I may go back and read it. So read this one and blame me πŸ˜‰

    Kim, It is a very good book…and the movie won’t ruin anything for you because the book actually starts with Janie telling us that Tea Cake is dead…so you know that from the beginning! The rest of the story tells her life up to getting to know him and then her life with him.

  17. Great review, Chris. I listened to the audiobook version of this book last year and loved it. It was narrated by Ruby Dee, and she did a fabulous job. It was an incredible experience listening to Ruby Dee’s acting/reading of Hurston’s beautiful writing! Very powerful!

  18. I just have to jump back in with the assigned reading thing. I agree, I think this is best left for mature readers–not because of content–but because it takes a bit of life and of experience to appreciate it. I hated everything–and I do mean everything–that was assigned to me in high school. The very fact that it was required killed it. In college, I didn’t mind so much assigned reading. But I think that is because I was an English major. You knew what you were signing up for when you chose that major–books, books, and more books. That didn’t stop me from hating some books, but I was always open-minded going into it. Just don’t ask me how I feel about Jude the Obscure. It won’t be pretty!

    I do think this is a must-read, but a voluntary must read πŸ™‚

    I have always planned to do more Hurston myself. But have never gotten past adding a few more short stories. Not because they weren’t good, but because I always have so much other stuff going on. Other books calling my name and all. πŸ™‚

  19. Robin, I’ve been craving the audiobook of this one ever since reading it. Especially after hearing that it’s read by Ruby Dee…I can’t picture a better actress to read this one. Can’t wait!

    Becky, Couldn’t agree with you more. I feel the same way…so many books that I read in high school I just despised…and I’m sure that many of them were good books, I just didn’t have the maturity level to appreciate them. I liked many of my college books, but even then, it was something about the “mandatory reading” thing.

  20. This book has been sitting on my sister’s shelf for ages, and I’ve always seen it and wondered what it was about. I’ve actually got a copy of my own but haven’t read it yet. I appreciated reading your review; now I have more of an idea why I ought to read it.

  21. Jeane, It’s a wonderful book…one of those ones that I’ve always wondered about too…I’m glad that I finally read it. Makes me wonder how many more “classics” are sitting out there waiting for me.



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