Date Completed: (9/8/2015)
Written in 1937, the writing style of this book was incredible. Their Eyes Were Watching God is a fantastic tale of a woman named Janie born and raised in the South who goes through three marriages and the lessons she learns along the way. Although I found the spelling during this book detracted at first from my ability to read it, the spelling ultimately gave color to the words Hurston chose. This book required a close reading and the story had a suprisingly modern message. Hurston says, “‘De ones de white man know is nice colored folks. De ones he don’t know is bad niggers,’ Janie said this and laughed and Tea Cake laughed with her. ‘Janie, Ah done watched it time and time again; each and every white man think he know all de GOOD darkies already. He don’t need tuh know no mo’. So far as he’s concerned, all dem he don’t know oughta be tried and sentenced tuh six months behind the United States privy house at hard smellin.’” This message should not still ring true today, but unfortunately we continue to live in a culture and society that benefits white people and particularly white men and forgets everyone else.
Janie’s character development was particularly well written. She began as a young naive woman being married off before her grandmother died for her own protection. As the novel continues, Janie recognizes why her grandmother did it (because her grandmother wanted her to have privilege) and forgives her for it, even though her first marriage felt by far the worst. Her second marriage again led her to understand what she didn’t want from marriage and life. Her third marriage taught her that there are, “Two things everybody’s got tuh do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin’ fuh theyselves.” Her whirlwind adventures with Tea Cake ultimately end in his death and her widowhood once again, but the fun and love she had along the way was worth it to her.
This is arguably Hurston’s most famous novel, and she deserves more recognition for this book. I’ve not yet read any of her other more than fifty published novels, short stories, plays, and essays, but I would like to now that I’ve had this experience. I would highly recommend this book to anyone looking to get a tale of love and struggle with some tried-and-true messages of the resiliency of humankind and black people. There are many criticisms of Hurston’s work, not least of which comes from people declaring that she is sucking up to white people or perpetuating negative ideologies of black culture.