Book Review: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston


Author: Zora Neale Hurston
Title: Their Eyes Were Watching God
Narrator: Ruby Dee
Publication Info: New York : HarperAudio, 2005. [originally published in 1937]
Other Books Read by the Same Author:

Summary/Review:

Their Eyes Were Watching God remains one of my favorite books of all time. I read it several times in the 1990s but hadn’t revisited it since.  To listen to the audiobook narrated by Ruby Dee is a treat.

The novel depicts the journey of self-actualization of Janie Crawford, a Black woman in early 20th-century Florida.  It begins with Janie as young teenager, experiencing an awakening that is both sexual as well as tied to the natural world and the possibilities of youth. Janie’s grandmother, Nanny, who raised her in absence of her mother, is anxious that Janie will follow her mother’s path as unwed mother and marries Janie off to older farmer named Logan Killicks.

It is a loveless marriage and Killicks mainly wants Janie as labor for his farm. Janie runs off with the charismatic Joe Starks, an ambitious man planning to move to the all-Black town of Eatonville, where he sets himself up as mayor and prominent businessman upon arrival.  But Starks is very controlling and abusive of Janie, restricting even her social life. After Starks’ death, Janie meets the younger man Tea Cake, and at last finds love.  While Janie experiences joy and fulfillment sharing Tea Cake’s life as a migrant farmer, he also gives off some red flags of possessiveness and irresponsibility.

The novel is framed by Janie telling her life story to a friend, and it is through the experiences of these four relationships – Nanny, Killicks, Starks, and Tea Cake – that she is able to discover herself and control her own destiny.  Hurston’s novel draws on African-American folklore and the importance of being tied to nature in human life.  Published a generation before the Civil Rights and Women’s Liberation movements it was a book ahead of its time.  But it has rightly found its spot in the literary canon.

Recommended books:

  • The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  • Cane by Jean Toomer
  • Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Rating: *****

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