Book Notes – Their Eyes Were Watching God

You got to go there to know there.

Zora Neale Hurston’s 1937 novel of a young woman’s self-discovery paints “there” as not only different locales but different lives. From rural Eatonville, Florida (one of the nation’s first all-black communities) to the Everglades, Janie Crawford is transformed through three tragic marriages.

Raised by a watchful grandma, she morphs from dreamy teen to miserable child-bride in an arranged marriage with a landed geezer who sees her as chattel. She then she elopes with a sweet-talking social-climber, only to feel their love sour as he too grows old and jealous. Finally, as a widowed storekeeper wallowing in boredom, she finds happiness with a younger man, an itinerant laborer and gambler who keeps her teetering on the edge of faith. Yet she overlooks his many faults for the sake of passion. Then Mother Nature finds a bizarre and tragic way to separate them.

Though not a long read, the dialogue is dialect-heavy, which makes for slow-going if one is to digest its nuances. Hurston’s signature word-painting makes for vivid scenes and memorable one-liners, but the story doesn’t hit its stride until our heroine meets her match half-way into the 184 pages, at which point it’s hard to put down. With so many realistic yet stunning twists of fate, it’s easy to see why this story is a modern classic and equally baffling why it was so neglected until over a decade after Hurston was buried in a pauper’s grave. Sadly, racism is the likely cause, as white critics trashed it early-on.

For glimpses of Eatonville and a frank look at Zora Neale Hurston’s Hometown Legacy, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_M-PfhgMsg.