Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Their Eyes Were Watching God - Book Review

I bought a used copy of Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston at the Salt Lake Library Book Sale last year. It's been on my to-read shelf for awhile so my friends and I decided to read it for our long-distance book discussion group this month.

Published in 1937, Hurston writes of the love story of an African American woman in Florida during the early decades of the Twentieth Century. It is a powerful and moving tale of love and gaining ones freedom through personal choice. It is also a haunting and horrifying tale of loss.

Janie has been doing what every body else wants her to do for years. Now, her second husband is dead. She is a middle-aged, beautiful widow of means. Tea Cake, a young and handsome gambler has caught her eye and woos her with promises of love. For the first time, she is falling in love. Ignoring the cultural "rules" and throwing caution to the wind, Janie follows Tea Cake to Florida.

Initially, I had trouble getting into this novel. The main problem was that as a used book someone else had underlined and made notes in it. It's a risk one takes with used books but these notes were especially distracting (we certainly were not thinking alike). Fortunately, the first reader (obviously a student) either tired of the book or got so involved in the story that the notes stopped around page 42.

The second hindrance was the Hurston's use of the local dialect. She wrote as the people spoke. ("Naw, Nanny, no ma'am! Is dat whut he been hangin' round here for? He look like some ole skullhead in de grave yard." p.13.) She was an anthropologist and a folklorist and writing the tales of her subjects verbatim is part of the trade. I got used to it and by the end of the novel it was no longer a problem.

Hurston's use of language is simply beautiful. She is at her best when describing about nature and especially the power of the 1928 Okechobee Hurricane (resulted in the lake breaching the dikes--thousands were killed).

As an anthropologist, Hurston also understands people and the social rules that bind people and tie them down. Janie is a complex character and I enjoyed watching her grow into herself in this novel.

This novel is a true American classic and deserves a place with the works of Steinbeck, James and Faulkner.


Saimi said...

What a great book review! Just another one to read on my long list of books..Maybe if I could get off the computer I'd have more time to read! HA!!

April said...

Excellent book review! I can't wait to pick it up and give it a read!