Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston: Book Review

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Cover of Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

4 Stars

Janie Crawford is only 16 years old when her grandmother decides to marry her off to a man who is well-respected in the community. Nanny has had to work hard all her life and she wants Janie to have an easier life. She marries her off as soon as she notices boys noticing Janie. It comes from a place of love, but Janie wants to live life, not just settle for comfort. So she sets out to live the kind of life she wants to live.

You just have to admire Janie. My gosh, does she just take a big bite out of life and chew it with gusto! She does not have an easy time of it by any means. But she weathers the hard times and she wrings every drop of sweetness out of the good times. She learns early on that she shouldn’t be too concerned about what others think of her choices. She’s the one who has to live with her decisions, so she’s the only person she needs to please. And besides, you can’t make everybody happy, so why even try?

I already knew a little about the town of Eatonville, Florida,  the first incorporated all-black town in the US, from reading Zora and Me by Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon. That was getting a little out of order, but I did like reading this and seeing where some of Bond and Simon’s ideas about the young Zora came from. The town and the alligator stories were especially interesting to me.

I did have a little bit of a hard time with the dialect that the book is written in. I think for about the first half of the book, I was laboriously sounding out each word and translating it in my head. I finally learned to just let go. I could read at pretty much my normal speed and still understand everything. I wish I had managed to do that earlier.

There was some beautiful writing in here.

“When God had made The Man, he made him out of stuff that sung all the time and glittered all over. Some angels got jealous and chopped him into millions of pieces, but still he glittered and hummed. So they beat him down to nothing but sparks but each little spark had a shine and a song. So they covered each one over with mud. And the lonesomeness in the sparks make them hunt for one another.”

“It is so easy to be hopeful in the daytime when you can see the things you wish on. But it was night, it stayed night. Night was striding across nothingness with the whole round world in his hands . . . They sat in company with the others in other shanties, their eyes straining against cruel walls and their souls asking if He meant to measure their puny might against His. They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God.”

“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. 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.”

Take some time to get acquainted with this book and you will meet a character whom you won’t soon forget. Highly recommended.

According to the ALA website, Their Eyes Were Watching God was “Challenged for sexual explicitness, but retained on the Stonewall Jackson High School’s academically advanced reading list in Brentsville, VA (1997). A parent objected to the novel’s language and sexual explicitness.”

Janie is a woman who learns to enjoy life and everything it has to offer. I personally wouldn’t call her promiscuous, although I know others would disagree with me. Sex with someone you love is a beautiful part of life; it would have felt wrong if it wasn’t in there. And besides, I think that there are more explicit scenes on tv everyday, not to mention movies.

Read an excerpt.

Read for the following challenges:
Southern Literature
Off the Shelf
Page to Screen
Heroine’s Book Shelf

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I have an affiliate relationship with Malaprop’s, my local independent bookstore located in downtown Asheville, NC; and Better World Books. I will receive a small commission at no cost to you if you purchase books through links on my site.

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  1. Great review — I love the excerpts you included and the very level-headed way you handled the critique of the book's sexual content. Right on!

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