Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

So, I know this is late. I’m really sorry. Blame a bad back, The Mighty Johnsons, family stuff and playdates.

I read Their Eyes Were Watching God. Remember me talking about Edwidge Dandicat when I talked about Night by Elie Wiesel? Well, I was so fascinated by her name that I went to her list to see what she had listed. I had already read a couple of them previously for the blog, but this was one I had not read. And I have wanted to read this ever since a friend told me to about a decade ago but I just wasn’t able to get into it at that time and had not come back to it as of yet.

This is a beautiful and heartbreaking and yet, somewhat uplifting, story. It deals with African American communities in the early 20th century. Bits of it oddly reminded me of Grapes of Wrath, even though completely different region (Florida) and different culture (black instead of white). But it’s also about one woman. It addresses so many things about that culture at that time. What it was to be African American at that time, what it was to be a woman at that time, and what it was to be an African American woman at that time. You may wonder why I broke it up like that, but I think some of the things the main character Janie goes through could be “any woman”. Hurston’s writing is evocative.  The way she describes how minds work and how we transition stages is stunning.

“The familiar people and things had failed her so she hung over the gate and looked up the road towards way off. She knew now that marriage did not make love. Janie’s first dream was dead, so she became a woman.”

Janie has one marriage at the beginning when she is 17 that her grandmother arranged for her. She talks later to a friend about how her grandmother had been a slave, so to her the ultimate accomplishment was to see her granddaughter being able to “sit all the time”. But, Janie ended up not wanting that. So she left the first husband. Thinking she had found something different, she ran off with a second husband. They were together for over twenty years, but she had to hide herself away from him. He dies. Then comes a chance at redemption.

I liked Janie, a lot. She ended up not being afraid to grab for what she wanted. She acted against all the social mores of her group of people, and she did it time and time again (when I say group of people, I’m talking about the communities she became a part of). And in the end, it’s up to the reader to decide whether that ended up better or worse for her. I like to think better. I like to think that her life and herself were richer for taking those chances and finding the things she did, both outside of herself and about herself.

My only major note is that Hurston writes the entire thing in dialect. Which is fine, I often read stories with a ton of dialect in them. But, I think she could have lightened her usage just slightly. Especially since her narration is -not- in dialect, it created a huge dissonance for me at times.

This is definitely another book I’d put on a highly recommended list.

Have a great rest of your weekend! I’m off to continue in extreme busy mode, while wincing every time I step wrong. But lots of good things too 🙂 Just the way it is.

FYI-on next Thursday, when you see Dave’s post up, I’ll point out now that it’s not only his birthday that day, but mine too. This was just a happy coincidence and not the reason we started the blog (which would be a little silly if you think about it, “Oh we share birthdays!? Let’s start a blog about books!”). It’s nice having someone with the same birthday. It means no matter how much you think no one remembers, there is always one person LOL. So, tell him happy birthday.

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