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Their Eyes Were Watching God

Our 2013 January Selection:

Their Eyes Were Watching God

By Zora Neale Hurston

Their Eyes Were Watching God LBV

Their Eyes Were Watching God is a 1937 novel and the best-known work by African American writer Zora Neale Hurston. The novel narrates main character Janie Crawford’s “ripening from a vibrant, but voiceless, teenage girl into a woman with her finger on the trigger of her own destiny.”  Set in central and southern Florida in the early 20th century, the novel was initially poorly received for its rejection of racial uplift literary prescriptions.  A classic of black literature, it tells with  haunting sympathy and piercing immediacy the story of Janie Crawford’s evolving selfhood through three marriages. Fair-skinned, long-haired, dreamy as a child, Janie grows up expecting better treatment than she gets until she meets Tea Cake, a younger man who engages her heart and spirit in equal measure and gives her the chance to enjoy life without being one man’s mule or another man’s adornment. It is a tribute to the author’s wisdom that though her story does not end happily, it does draw to a satisfying conclusion. Janie is one black woman who doesn’t have to live lost in sorrow, bitterness, fear, or foolish romantic dreams, for Janie and the reader have learned “two things everybody’s got tuh do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin’ fuh theyselves.”

A Few Quotes From the Book (pages):

‘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.'(opening lines)

‘Yes indeed. You know if you pass some people and don’t speak tuh suit ’em dey got tuh go way back in yo’ life and see whut you ever done. They know mo’ bout yuh than you do yo’ self. An envious heart makes a treacherous ear. They done ‘heard’ ’bout you just what they hope done happened.'(5)

‘Janie saw her life like a great tree in leaf with the things suffered, things enjoyed, things done and undone. Dawn and doom was in the branches.'(8)

Janie has spent most of the day under a blossoming pear tree in the back-yard. … It had called her to come and gaze on a mystery. From barren brown stems to glistening leaf-buds; from the leaf-buds to snowy virginity of bloom. It stirred her tremendously. How? Why? It was like a flute song forgotten in another existence and remembered again. What? How? Why? The rose of the world was breathing out smell. It followed her through all her waking moments and caressed her in her sleep. It connected itself with other vaguely felt matters that had struck her outside observation and buried themselves in her flesh. Now they emerged and quested about her consciousness.'(10)

‘Oh to be a pear tree — any tree in bloom! With kissing bees singing of the beginning of the world!'(11)

‘There are years that ask questions and years that answer. Janie had had no chance to know things, so she had to ask. Did marriage end the cosmic loneliness of the unmated? Did marriage compel love like the sun the day?'(20)

‘There is a basin in the mind where words float around on thought and thought on sound and sight. Then there is depth of thought untouched by words, and deeper still a gulf of formless feelings untouched by thought.”(23)

‘She knew things that nobody had ever told her. For instance, the words of the trees and the wind. She often spoke to falling seeds and said,”Ah hope you fall on soft ground,” because she had heard the seeds saying that to each other as they passed. She knew the world was a stallion rolling in the blue pasture of ether. She knew that God tore down the old world every evening and built a new one by sun-up. It was wonderful to see it take the form with the sun and emerge from the gray dust of its making.'(23-24)

‘She didn’t read books so she didn’t know that she was the world and the heavens boiled down to a drop.(72)

‘Death, that strange being with the huge square toes who lived way in the West. The great one who lived in the straight house like a platform without sides to it, and without a roof. What need has Death for a cover, and what winds can blow against him? He stands in his high house that overlooks the world. Stands watchful and motionless all day with his sword drawn back, waiting for the messenger to bid him come. Been standing there before there was a where to a when or a then.'(80)

‘It was all according to the way you see things. Some people can look at a mud-puddle and see an ocean with ships.'(85)

‘When God had made The Man, he made him out of stuff that sung all the time and glittered all over. Then after that some angels got jealous and chopped him into millions of pieces, but still he glittered and hummed. So they beat hum down to nothing but sparks but each little spark had a shine and a song.'(86)

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Discussion

One thought on “Their Eyes Were Watching God

  1. Zora Neale Hurston (born January 7, 1891) spent her early adulthood studying at various universities and collecting folklore from the South, the Caribbean, and Latin America. She published her findings in Mules and Men. She was a fixture of the Harlem Renaissance, rubbing shoulders with many of its famous writers. In 1937, she published her masterwork of fiction, Their Eyes Were Watching God.

    Posted by Little Black Village | January 2, 2013, 10:28 am

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