Their Eyes Were Watching God

By Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston was a female black writer in the early 20th century, and she wrote this novel in 1937.


In Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie tells her story to her best friend Phoebe, from her first forced marriage when she was a teenager to living with the love of her life in her 40s. It tells of her relationships, describing the three totally different men she lived with, and the adventures incurred throughout her life. The majority of the book takes place in Eatonville, a town in Florida near Jacksonville that was incorporated on August 15, 1887, and was one of the first self-governing all-black municipalities in the United States. It also is the community in which Hurston grew up.


Janie was raised by her grandmother, Nanny, who was trying to give her a better life than she had. Both Janie’s mother and Janie were products of rape. When Nanny saw Janie kissing a boy over the fence, she felt it was time for Janie to get married and be taken care of by a man.


Janie was not interested in marriage, or the man Nanny chose, who Janie came to realize wanted not a partner and a wife, but a maid and someone to help with the work. When a handsome drifter showed up, he turned Janie’s eye and she ran off with him to Eatonville where he bought more land and helped people build up the town. He became the mayor, and Janie his trophy wife.


After he died, Tea Cake showed up on the scene with nothing to his name. Janie had become wealthy from her husband’s estate and people were afraid that Tea Cake would swindle her out of money, which did not happen. Janie went with Tea Cake to the Everglades where they both worked hard, and Janie was happier than she had ever been.


A hurricane came and destroyed everything. Janie and Tea Cake barely survived. Tea Cake was bitten by a rabid dog while saving Janie in the flood waters, and Janie ended up having to shoot him in self defense. She was charged with murder, but ended up being acquitted of all charges.


It is a well-written, interesting book, but it took me a while to be able to read the vernacular southern black English conversations easily. I love the way Hurston used words poetically in her descriptions, and how the words and descriptions grew as the main character’s life got happier.



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