“Their Eyes Were Watching God,” the 1937 novel by Zora Neale Hurston, is such a vivid story. The language, the characters, the story, and how they all flowed together, was genius, especially considering the zeitgeist when the book was published.
Synopsis: Janie Crawford is back in her hometown, sharing her life story with a friend. It begins with her grandmother telling 15/16-year-old Janie to marry for “protection.” She weds Logan Killicks, an older farmer, who expects Janie to work the land and stay in her place, but Janie wants more. She wants genuine love. After her grandmother dies, Janie runs off with Joe Starks.
Joe takes her to Eatonville, Fla., where he becomes mayor, opens a store, and landowner. However, Janie quickly learns that Joe doesn’t see Janie as an equal but a trophy wife to be controlled. Their marriage lasts 20 years and ends with Joe’s death.
Jani, now in her middle-to-late thirties, meets Tea Cake. He’s a gambler who strolled into town. They start to chat, and although hesitant at first, the older Janie falls in love with the young suitor. They leave Eatonville for the Everglades. Their relationship is violent, but Janie is in love.
A hurricane ravishes their neighborhood, destroying the community. While trying to save Janie, Tea Cake is bit by a rabid dog. He starts showing signs of rabies, including delusions. He accuses Janie of infidelity and tries to shoot her. She kills him in self-defense.
Janie Crawford is charged with murder but acquitted by an all-white jury. She leaves and returns to Eatonville with the residents gossiping about her life and loops around to the novel’s start talking to her friend.
This book was intense, and I loved the use of themes throughout the story. There’s so much to unpack, such as gender roles, colorism, sexism, domestic violence, and more.
Initially, I was torn about the use of southern African American dialect; it’s hard to decipher at first, especially if you are not used to it, but it becomes easier to understand as the story progresses.
This novel is a classic, and if you are new to my page, I don’t rate masterpieces.
Have you ever read “Their Eyes Were Watching God”? Leave a comment below.
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