Their Eyes Were Watching God is one of those famous novels that a lot of people read in high school, but I never did. I recently finally read the Zora Neale Hurston novel because I was teaching it in my AP Literature class.
The novel follows female protagonist, Janie, in early 1900s Florida starting when she was a teenager and following her into her 30s. We watch as Janie changes as a person and woman through the years and is effected by her own personal dreams and desires as well as her relationships i.e. multiple marriages. Her early years are greatly influenced by her grandmother who was born into slavery. Although we only see her grandmother for a very short time in the beginning of the novel, her influence impacts Janie and her decisions for much of her life. This literary classic is an interesting look at love, marriage, and what people value in a relationship. It also delves in to what people are willing or unwilling to give up for love or in a marriage. I separated the two, because not all marriages involve love as seen in the novel.
The novel really makes you examine what makes a marriage. Janie’s first marriage (to a farmer) was not based on love. She was very young and unhappy because she didn’t see her marriage as exciting and loving or passionate. She had dreams of what marriage should be like. However, we see her next two marriages to have flaws as well, so it makes you wonder what really makes a “good” marriage. Interestingly enough, many of my students think her best marriage was that first one and she just didn’t realize it because she was young and had her head in the clouds. One of my students even said “I don’t know why she hated him. All he wanted her to do was plant some potatoes. What’s the big deal?!”
The dialogue in the novel can be hard to follow because it is written in the vernacular of the time, environment, and people Janie hung around. Once you get the hang of it, it’s easy enough. I’ve picked out a few quotes that I particularly loved from the novel.
“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”
“The years took all the fight out of Janie’s face. For a while she thought it was gone from her soul. No matter what Jody did, she said nothing. She had learned how to talk some and leave some. She was a rut in the road. Plenty of life beneath the surface but it was kept beaten down by the wheels.”
“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 him down to nothing but sparks but each little spark had a shine and a song. So they covered each one over with mud. And the lonesomeness in the sparks make them hunt for one another, but the mud is deaf and dumb. Like all the other tumbling mud-balls, Janie had tried to show her shine.”
“Then you must tell ’em dat love ain’t something’ lak uh grindstone dat’s de same thing everywhere and do de same thing tuh everything it touch. Love is lak de sea. It’s uh movin’ thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it’s different with every shore.”
Have you ever read Their Eyes Were Watching God?