Their Eyes Were Watching God (Review)

Labels: A Lighter Touch


Their Eyes Were Watching God
Zora Neale Hurston, 1937
219 pp.

Alice Walker (The Color Purple) was responsible for kindling our current interest in this lovely but once neglected work. Their Eyes was a favorite of hers, now a favorite of many, and "short-listed" as a favorite of book clubseverywhere.

From the opening lines we know this story is of a dream not to be deferred*—not, that is, for Janie Mae Crawford, the novel's heroine:

Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.

Now, [for] women ... the dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.

Janie Mae's passion to "act and do things accordingly" is what drives this story, but her passion comes at a price—although it's one she's willing to accept. Married thrice, widowed twice, she carves her own way in a life pre-determined by race and gender.

Hurston's prose, poetic at the onset, sometimes falls flat—but only sometimes. Overall, her novel is compelling and her heroine endearing. We admire Janie Mae's doggedness and daring. Although some readers find the colloquial speech difficult—like Twain and Faulkner, it lends her work a rich and authentic voice. Read this—you will be glad you did.

See our Reading Guide for Their Eyes Were Watching God.

* A nod here to Langston Hughes' powerful poem, "A Dream Deferred."

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