Thursday, January 29, 2009

Their Eyes Were Watch God by Zora Neale Hurston

Rating: 3 out of 5
Pages: 193
Genre: Fiction (Classic, African American)
Series: No
Publication Date: 1937

Synopsis (From Shelfari):
"Their Eyes Were Watching God", an American classic, is a luminous and haunting novel about Janie Crawford, a Southern black woman in the 1930s whose journey from a free-spirited girl to a woman of independence and substance has inspired writers and readers for close to seventy years.

This poetic, graceful love story, rooted in black folk traditions and steeped in mythic realism, celebrates, boldly and brilliantly, African-American culture and heritage. And in a powerful, mesmerizing narrative, it pays quiet tribute to a black woman, who, though constricted by the times, still demanded to be heard.

Review (contains spoilers):

Once again I am reviewing a book that is required high school reading for a lot of people. But was not for me. And while I was pleasantly surprised with "To Kill A Mockingbird", I don't have that same feeling with Ms. Hurston's novel. But isn't that how it goes with required high school reading? I am not saying that I hated it but I am rather indifferent to the whole novel.

First let me explain the novel to you (those of you that haven't read it). The synopsis is a little misleading (in my opinion). The story is about a black woman, Janie Crawford, who was raised by her grandmother (a former slave). Janie's grandmother had certain ideas about what a good life was and enforced those on Janie, who bowed to her wishes. That is just the first part of the book. The rest of the story is about Janie's journey through life trying to find herself. Sounds interesting doesn't it?

Now I have several issues with the book overall but I will start with the good. "Their Eyes Were Watching God" was a great depiction of the life of the main character and the struggle she (and other black women) had growing up in a post slavery world. You see some of the hardship and a little of the racism that occurred. Hurston used the black dialect as a literary tool to make her to keep with the time and place of the story and the economic status of her characters.

While the language is in keeping with the time of the story, it takes a little getting use to. When I first started reading the story I had to read the character's dialogue a couple of times to get what they were saying. After I got uses to it, it went smoothly.

The characters were flat. They were very one dimensional. The main character Janie never really changed. Her situation changed. The person she was living with changed. But she didn't. She just sort of followed where they lead her and became who they wanted her to be. Now I don't know if that says something of the women of her time or if Hurston was trying to convey a message. Whatever it was it left a lot to be desired. The other main character Tea Cake had a little more dimension to him and the story began to feel as if it was more about Tea Cake than Janie. When Janie married Sparks she became the docile, helpful house wife. When she married Tea Cake she sort of became his partner in crime, a traveling companion. But I never really felt any connection between the two. The characters never jumped off the page and made me feel for them or really care what was happening.

Another thing that I have issues with is the treatment of violence against women. In the story, both Joe (Janie's second husband) and Tea Cake strike Janie, for minor reasons. The story portrays this as a normal occurrence. The men in the story even joke about abusing their wives and such. This may have been "normal" or "acceptable" at the time. But for an African-American artist and a woman whose heyday was during the Harlem Renaissance, I think Hurston missed an opportunity to make some kind of social commentary. Or maybe she did by playing wife beating off as a causal occurrence between man and wife.

The way Hurston killed Tea Cake off was sort of morbid. How do you get the idea to kill someone off by first giving them rabies from a dog during a hurricane. Then having them become jealous, while having rabies, and trying to kill their wife (how is handy with a shot gun)? That is just crazy and off the wall.

This book really didn't catch me. It left me with a lot of questions (is that a good sign?) and just sort of feeling like "it's done, oh well".

Pros: Language, overall plot
Cons: Language, characters, violence

Overall Recommendation:

I would say if you haven't read it you should read it just to know what it is about. But overall it was like "Whatever"

1% Well Read (2 out of 12)
Library Challenge (2 out of 25)
Decades '09 (3 out of 9)
TBR Challenge (4 out of 12)
Round The World Passage (1 out of 18)

Other Reviews:
It's All About Me

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1 comment:

  1. Oh, I'm sorry you didn't like it so much! I must say that it pales in comparision with To Kill A Mockingbird. I did like the Janie character though. I think that the fact that she didn't change was good - she was a certain kind of person and happened to have to be in a 'docile' role for a long time. But then when she met Tea Cake she was finally 'allowed' to just be herself. I guess this is why books like these are on HS reading lists, there is so much possible discussion!

    And I had trouble with the language too! :-)