FemLIT: Their Eyes were Watching God Review

This month for FemLIT, we read both a feminist and an African-American classic, Their Eyes were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, to celebrate Black History Month. Here were my thoughts. 
The Ups: First, the language. Hurston has total control over all the words she writes. They are so perfectly selected and crafted in the prose. The descriptions are so beautiful and rich that it brings the color of the story to life.

"Tea Cake, with the sun for a shawl."

Like what is this??! Every small line has something so stunning, and it flows so easily. But the best part is that these lines that carry the story are intermixed with dialogue in complete vernacular: "Ah'm glad y'all stop dat crap-shootin'..." The contrast is so powerful. It makes the story real and natural but also beautiful. And the unusual-ness of seeing dialect written out almost forces you to read the parts out loud, which makes the characters seem even more tangible. 

Second, the love. This is, more than anything, a book about love. And not just "love," but all-consuming, living, moving, breathing love. The main character, Janie, goes through two marriages that constrain her before finding Tea Cake, a man twelve years her junior but the love of her life. Their interactions and the respect they hold for each other are painted so subtly in the language. Their coexistence is so natural. It's not without flaws, but unlike so many unions, this union sets both the characters free. 

In loving Tea Cake, Janie also comes into the realization that everyone's has "got tuh find out about livin' fuh themselves." She takes control over her own happiness and soul, and is unapologetic in the way she lives. Much of her life had been spent in submission and suppression. But, she says, if only you let tradition and expectation go, you can be free to find your own happiness. 

In the background of this protagonist and her lover, there are fleshed-out personalities that adorn the story with life. Joe Starks, Janie's first husband, will never let go of ambition. Pheoby, Janie's best friend, quietly stands up for her. Along with the searing setting, there is such life that resides in the pages. 

The Downs: Alice Walker can almost be credited with the resurfacing of this ignored novel- she said, "There is no book more important to me than this one." And while I think that Hurston's work was groundbreaking in so many ways, I still feel a little disconnected to the story. There wasn't something that profoundly shook me, whereas Walker's most famous work, The Color Purple, left me in tears. 

I think there is a more subtle grace to this book, but I still felt a little hollow when it ended. Maybe if the sadness near the end had been depicted more strongly, the reclamation of self would have been more touching. 
If you kin see de light at daybreak, you don't keer if you die at dusk. It's so many people never seen de light at all.

Now, women forget all those things they don't want to remember, and remember everything they don't want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.

A little war of defense for helpless things was going on inside her. People ought to have some regard for helpless things. 

Here was peace. She pulled in her horizon like a great fish-net. Pulled it from around the waist of the world and draped it over her shoulder. So much of life in its meshes! She called in her soul to come and see.

Rating: 4 kisses!

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