Their Eyes Were Watching God


“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”

I recently read the novel Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. It was quite the journey to read but it was definitely worth it. I thought that I had read this novel back in high school, but either I did not really read it (as was the case with so many books I was supposed to read in high school) or I did not fully comprehend it at the time.

“Dancing, fighting, singing, crying, laughing, winning and losing love every hour. Work all day for money, fight all night for love.”

Their Eyes Were Watching God is a beautiful story about marriage, race, class, love, death, and life. Janie, after a long journey away from the town of Eatonville, Florida, returns with a long story to tell about where she has been and what has happened to her and her husband, Tea Cake. She begins her story back when she was a young woman. After meeting her first husband, Janie first travels to Eatonville where she and her husband settle down and become leaders in the town. Janie learns about marriage and happiness, as well as unhappiness and pain, and over the years begins to learn what she truly wants from a marriage and from her life.

After her first husband passes away, Janie truly begins to become herself. She falls for Tea Cake, and the two go on a long journey, living and loving and truly being human.

Janie returns home in torn and tattered and dirty clothing, with the whole town wondering where in the world she has been. In her own words, alternated with the words of the author, Janie tells her story.

“He drifted off into sleep and Janie looked down on him and felt a self-crushing love. So her soul crawled out from its hiding place.”

Hurston’s writing is truly incredible, from the early 1900s southern dialect that immerses you in the characters’ language and in their world to the perfectly crafted similes and metaphors in the narration that give life to the story.

“Then you must tell ‘em dat love ain’t somethin’ lak uh grindstone dat’s de same thing everywhere and do de same thing tuh everything it touch. 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.”

“You got tuh go there to know there. Yo’ papa and yo’ mama and nobody else can’t tell yuh and show yuh. Two thing’s everybody’s got tuh do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin’ fuh theyselves.”

If you have a chance, please read this novel. It is a shame that Hurston was never truly recognized for her work until after her death, but fortunately this novel is now accepted as a literary classic and her writing will continue to be read and appreciated for generations.

“They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God.”

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