Reader reviews for Their Eyes Were Watching God

Had 2 days to read this in order to run a book discussion as part of our county's Big Read program. Very pleasantly surprised. Well written and accessible. Hurston had a great ear for dialect and could really turn out a metaphor.
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Some explicit sexual scenes.
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Once again I am reviewing a book that is required high school reading for a lot of people. But was not for me. And while I was pleasantly surprised with "To Kill A Mockingbird", I don't have that same feeling with Ms. Hurston's novel. But isn't that how it goes with required high school reading? I am not saying that I hated it but I am rather indifferent to the whole novel.First let me explain the novel to you (those of you that haven't read it). The synopsis is a little misleading (in my opinion). The story is about a black woman, Janie Crawford, who was raised by her grandmother (a former slave). Janie's grandmother had certain ideas about what a good life was and enforced those on Janie, who bowed to her wishes. That is just the first part of the book. The rest of the story is about Janie's journey through life trying to find herself. Sounds interesting doesn't it?Now I have several issues with the book overall but I will start with the good. "Their Eyes Were Watching God" was a great depiction of the life of the main character and the struggle she (and other black women) had growing up in a post slavery world. You see some of the hardship and a little of the racism that occurred. Hurston used the black dialect as a literary tool to make her to keep with the time and place of the story and the economic status of her characters.While the language is in keeping with the time of the story, it takes a little getting use to. When I first started reading the story I had to read the character's dialogue a couple of times to get what they were saying. After I got uses to it, it went smoothly.The characters were flat. They were very one dimensional. The main character Janie never really changed. Her situation changed. The person she was living with changed. But she didn't. She just sort of followed where they lead her and became who they wanted her to be. Now I don't know if that says something of the women of her time or if Hurston was trying to convey a message. Whatever it was it left a lot to be desired. The other main character Tea Cake had a little more dimension to him and the story began to feel as if it was more about Tea Cake than Janie. When Janie married Sparks she became the docile, helpful house wife. When she married Tea Cake she sort of became his partner in crime, a traveling companion. But I never really felt any connection between the two. The characters never jumped off the page and made me feel for them or really care what was happening.Another thing that I have issues with is the treatment of violence against women. In the story, both Joe (Janie's second husband) and Tea Cake strike Janie, for minor reasons. The story portrays this as a normal occurrence. The men in the story even joke about abusing their wives and such. This may have been "normal" or "acceptable" at the time. But for an African-American artist and a woman whose heyday was during the Harlem Renaissance, I think Hurston missed an opportunity to make some kind of social commentary. Or maybe she did by playing wife beating off as a causal occurrence between man and wife.This book really didn't catch me. It left me with a lot of questions (is that a good sign?) and just sort of feeling like "it's done, oh well".
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I have put off reading this book because I didn't figure my profile fits the target audience but I was wrong. The author and I may differ skin color and gender; however, neither of us panders much to anybody. Hurston wrote with truth and many did not like hearing such a thing. Country White folk sound much like country Black folk but another author of the era, Richard Wright, thought Hurston was dumbing down Blacks. Use phonetic spellings does make the book difficult to read and I could have used some easier to read narrative but I see why she wrote with such style. Hurston's love/hate relationship with Black men probably irritated Wright. Hurston shows good and bad exists regardless of skin or gender, like I said she does not pander.
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I read this book and fell in love with a woman named Janie. And I think given the chance she would have loved me back for I would never have wanted to change her. Zora Neale Hurston created this woman and for that I feel much obliged. I imagine Janie is back in Florida, sitting on her porch and telling jokes and laughing and playing games. And I would love to stumble on to her porch, grab a chair and play a game of checkers with her. Later we could go fishing.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 seeds saying that to each other as they passed.This is a story of real people, people that just jump off the page (or porch) and into your heart. Though the characters were African Americans in the early 20th century, I felt that they could have been any flavor of the human race in practically any century and in any place. Their zest for life was infectious. And their wisdom was overabundant. When told to keep a secret one woman simply says 'Ah jus lak uh chicken. Chicken drink water, but he don't pee-pee'.One of the main characters of the story is the small town porch. Without the porch the story could not have been told. The porch was the heart of the community. It was a place to go to lift the spirits (and drink the spirits) and share the wonders of each day. Everyone should have a porch they can go to. I think the porch could be the answer to many of the world's problems (well, that, and bacon).Zora Neale Hurston wrote this book in 7 weeks. She must of been a woman possessed because the tenor of the book is pitch-perfect.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 shatteredThat's just beautiful writing. And one of my favorite parts is when ZNH personifies the buzzards. I really did love Janie and I loved this book (Thanks Belva for the recommendation).After reading Sutton E. Griggs and his 'oh we are oppressed and must fight or die' and then Nella Larsen and her 'woe is me for being neither black nor white', Zora Neale Hurston's joy of life in the face of adversity was a refreshing song.
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“Their Eyes Were Watching God” is a wonderful novel to add to the “Search for Self” category. This novel starts out with a young girl name Janie. This takes place around the mid 1910’s so this is at racism’s prime. Although it does take place when racism is strong in the south the reader really doesn’t see much of racism. This is because the main character, Janie, lived in an all black town. This story is told through Janie’s point of view while she is talking to her friend. She tells of her life and what she has been through. Such as her relationships with the different men in her life and how she has gotten to the place in her life now.This novel connects to our “search for self” theme because that is what Janie is doing throughout the novel. When the novel begins when Janie is a small child and it ends when Janie feels that he life is almost complete and she is reflecting on it. I hold this book on high regards. I think that it’s a really good read and it’s not hard at all. I think that anyone can read this book and a piece of them can relate to this novel.
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Their Eyes Were Watching God is a prominent read in high school classrooms and opens the door to discussion about African American and women's literature. The story of Janie is one of independence, as various male figures throughout the story try and mold her. She lives to be free, and often in times of solitude "watches God" and wonders if he ever specifically watches her back. Told entirely through a flashback, Their Eyes Were Watching God is extremely useful when discussing narrative devices. In addition, there are some events which may be considered ironic, dramatic, and even comic. This novel really has it all, and has limitless possibilities if assigned to high school students with the right scope in mind.
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After I finished reading this, I felt like Pheoby: "Ah done growed ten feet higher from jus' listenin' tuh you, Janie."Although some of this book was troubling to this 21st-century feminist, when the book and its protagonist Janie are taken on their own terms, it's a compelling story, an epic romance, and a womanist version of the heroic quest. Above all, it does what every excellent book does: help us learn more about what it means to be human.
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I've read and enjoyed another work by Hurston so I began reading this with high expectations. Perhaps that was a damning factor for my enjoyment. I found the phonetic accents difficult to read and understand which significantly slowed the reading of the story. The plot was somewhat slow-going, and the main character, Janie, wasn't sympathetic enough to me to make me devour the book. The story wasn't horrible, but I found much to be desired while reading it.
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Since this book is considered an American classic, I felt a little pressure to be bowled over. I wasn't, but it is definitely a refreshing, enjoyable story. A simple, uncomplicated narrative that doesn't try to do too much or make a huge statement. As I progressed through the chapters, there were a few times I wished I had a marker so I could highlight the wonderful quotes contained within. The main character, Janie, is an extraordinarily strong and courageous woman. It is definitely a love story, but not because of (or maybe despite?) Janie's three marriages. It's more about the evolution of her character and how she learns to live for, and respect, herself. This is a brief but uplifting glimpse into the durability of the human spirit.
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