Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Their Eyes were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (4.5/5)

GoodReads says: "Their Eyes Were Watching God," an American classic, is the luminous and haunting novel about Janie Crawford, a Southern Black woman in the 1930's, whose journey from a free-spirited girl to a woman of independence and substance has inspired writers and readers for close to 70 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.

Originally published in 1937 and long out of print, the book was reissued in 1975 and nearly three decades later, "Their Eyes Were Watching God" is considered a seminal novel in American fiction.

I say: This is the second time I’ve tried reading this, and I am glad that I stuck with it this time, because it’s an incredibly beautiful novel. What put me off it the first time was the fact that all the quotes are written in vernacular, and I take such issues with that. I understand why authors do this, but it is just so painful for my senses; I wind up having to mouth the words and it takes me twice as long to read the novel.

However, this time it was worth it.

And the main reason it was worth it was because of Hurston’s achingly beautiful prose that wasn’t written in vernacular. It was almost poetic at times, and filled with so much wisdom I wanted to live inside of Janie’s head for a little longer than a mere 193 pages. She was a dreamer who felt the world deeply, which was not accepted back then for a woman; especially a black woman. Her place was by her man, of which her first two were a huge disappointment. Her first husband threatened to beat her, but she ran away before he had a chance. But then the man she ran away with, Jody, got so mad at her for a poorly made dinner he hit her: 

“Janie stood where he left her for unmeasured time and thought. She stood there until something fell off the shelf inside her. Then she went inside there to see what it was. It was her image of Jody tumbled down and shattered. But looking at it she saw that it never was the flesh and blood figure of her dreams. Just something she had grabbed up to drape her dreams over. In a way she turned her back upon that image where it lay and looked further. She had no more blossomy openings dusting pollen over her man, neither any glistening young fruit where the petals used to be. She found that she had a host of thoughts she had never expressed to him, and numerous emotions she had never let Jody know about. Things packed up and put away in parts of her heart where he could never find them. She was saving up her feelings for some other man she had never seen. She had an inside and an outside now and suddenly she knew how not to mix them.” – p 72


In hindsight I wish that I had been given this to read when I was a teenager because of the empowering attitude of Janie, and her refusal to let her spirit and dreams get broken down by other people. It took her a long while to find out who she really was, but once she realized it, there was no stopping her.

I have to say that it’s not all doom and gloom, in fact, there’s not too much of that here. One of the things I really enjoyed where all of the different characters who would spend their time insulting each other and just being plain silly. It brought the story to a different dimension and lifted it off the pages; it felt like I was there on the porch joining in then fun, and I laughed out loud a lot.

It’s easy to analyse it to death, but I’m not going to do that here – it’ll be too one-sided. Instead I am going to push it on everyone I know in hopes that at least one of them will read it so that we can have a discussion about it. 4.5/5 because of the vernacular, but I still look forward to reading this again in a few years.

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