Monday, September 3, 2012

"Their Eyes Were Watching God" by Zora Neale-Hurston Review

I'm still alive, just to let you guys know ha. Senior year began last week, and for me it feels like my summer had already ended a month ago when I drowned myself in summer work, rereading Frankenstein, annotating Frankenstein, writing novel notes for Frankenstein, making presentations for Frankenstein, and then dedicating the last week to reading books about the intricacies of the American government and brushing up on my rusty knowledge of its constitution. 

In a nutshell, the workload is already pretty heavy. In a few weeks, college essays and applications will be another source of stress. In the midst of it all, I almost thought about giving up blogging for good, or just announcing a sabbatical of some sort. Then I got a sweet little comment from Lady Disdain and realized that blogging is more imperative now than ever. Because I miss you guys, and when I'm constantly writing about the things that my teachers and college admissions officers want to see me write, it takes away some of the joy. That's why I need Lit Lovers & Corset Laces. Nothing I write here is graded. I'm not given some kind of prompt. My grammar, diction, and content isn't being weighed. Here, I write what I want. 

With Frankenstein out the way, my new English teacher decided to move back into the realm of American literature--more specifically African-American literature. While British Literature has always been my most beloved genre, I've always been the type of girl to read whatever I can get my hands on, so other genres tend to speak to me as well. As an African-American girl who is actually quite in touch with her culture, black lit speaks to me in a very personal way. When my English teacher announced that we were delving into Their Eyes Were Watching God, I couldn't even contain my excitement. 

Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Harlem Renaissance author Zora Neale-Hurston follows the story of one Janie Crawford. Janie is a beautiful mixed-raced girl with long, dark hair, an innately sexual figure, and a wild spirit. At the age of sixteen, she sits in the yard of her grandmother's home and observes the nuances of spring, taking particular note of the perfect marriage of nature when a bee pollinates a pear tree. Then and there, Janie decides that true love should resemble that moment, and a seed is planted within her to seek that kind of love. 

Her dream seems doomed to death when she is basically auctioned off in marriage to Mr. Logan Killicks by her grandmother, who explains that giving Janie to the old farmer is the twisted, maternal way of protecting her and seeing that she wants for nothing. Thus, Janie is married at sixteen. Logan Killicks worships her at first, but after receiving no encouragement, he subjects her to the role of a "farmer's wife." Janie is miserable until she makes the acquaintance of Joe Starks, who she meets on his way to Florida. 

The ambitious Joe is seeking to construct a town of black people, where he may prove to be a big and valuable voice in the world. Janie is attracted to his big dreams, and he insists that she run away from her husband and marry him so he can treat her like the lady she was born to be. Janie eagerly complies, and true to his word Joe creates a town from the dust and becomes mayor, but he places Janie on the shelf as a trophy-wife. Janie progressively finds herself more miserable as he degrades her intelligence and makes her feel unimportant. She stays married to him, however, until his death. 

By this time, Janie is near forty and feels as if the best days of life have passed her by. She relishes her independence, however, as Joe left her a large amount of money and she now has the capacity to live as she chooses. She insists that she will not marry, but soon after Joe's death she meets Tea Cake, a young and insanely handsome drifter. Tea Cake is twelve years Janie's junior, and her friends insist that he is only after her money, but in him Janie finds the physical and emotional love that resembles the pollinated pear tree from her past. She runs away with him and begins life all over again as the woman she's always wanted to be, but the forces of nature and the god that controls Janie's fate prove to have other plans. 

The thing about Their Eyes Were Watching God is that it isn't some weary story about the struggling souls of black folk like most Harlem Renaissance novels of the time. Instead, Zora Neale-Hurston strays away from all of that and makes things simple. The life of the black farmer isn't placed under a social microscope and deemed hopeless and destitute. Rather,  the simplicity of southern black life is painted as it truly was at the time. Blacks were poor, uneducated, and on the low end of the social spectrum, but they had ambitious spirits, kind hearts, and happy souls. They did not spend their time worrying about the problems in society, but rather enjoying what they had and seeking what there was to gain. 

With the social connotations of the black struggle milked out, the novel really focuses on one girl's metamorphosis as she discovers herself. The most obvious theme in the novel is her relationship with men, but at the story's essence there is so much to behold in her relationship with nature and its forces as well as the world. Hurston breaks genre barriers by creating Their Eyes Were Watching God with a masterful blend of feminism, cultural richness, and "coming of age" ideals. Janie finds herself by rejecting all the notions of who her family, race, and gender think she should be and becoming a real woman. Her relationship with Tea Cake not only symbolizes her success in finding a love that mirrors the the bee and the pear tree, but the victory of her ability to live a life always reminiscent of that moment of natural perfection. 

Super long review, I know. But comment please! There's also a movie. 

Miss you guys, and hope to be back asap. 



  1. I've heard of the movie, but only vaguely, and didn't realize it was based on a book from that same era. Intriguing! I just looked up the movie, and it has Terrence Howard in it, so that's doubtless why I'd heard of it. I'll have to see if I can find these now.

    I like how insightful your reviews are -- don't shorten them out of fear of being too long-winded!

    1. Thank you very much :) And the book is well worth the read. The movie depends on the taste.

  2. (Whew, I'm glad you haven't given up blogging. Sabbatical? Sure. But please don't stop completely.)

    Ooh, I love this novel. I came across it through uni (there was an African American Women's Lit paper - SO good). It's quite an easy read, isn't it? But there's so much more subtext in there. What I liked about Tea Cake was that he was the middle ground between Joe and Logan - he doesn't think of her only as a working machine, or put her up on a pedestal, he sees her for what she is. Having said that, though, when I first read it, I have to admit I was with the townsfolk. I thought he was playing her, and thought I'd been proven right with that scene when he and the cash have disappeared. (Oh, me of little faith).

    I had no idea there was a film adaptation though. Is it worth the watch?

    1. It is easy to read, but like you said the depth is greater than the words would lead you to believe. And I agree, Tea Cake was always surprising me.

      I personally enjoyed the film for one reason, and it was because Michael Ealy who played Tea Cake was in my mind the perfect person to play him. The rest of the casting was off, though, and so I was a little disappointed. Still worth a watch. I'll be reviewing it in depth soon.