Reader reviews for Their Eyes Were Watching God

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Wonderful! A must read!
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I remember adoring this book the first time I read it. So much so, that when I was sharing with a new-found friend the books I found most amazing, this one sprang immediately to mind. She didn't care for it though, and on reread though I still love it, I think I can understand why this wouldn't appeal to everyone. First of all, the dialogue is written in American Black dialect, complete with elisions and phonetic spellings. It makes it a struggle to read, even tedious at times trying to wrest meaning from the words. Not as difficult as unmodernized Chaucer perhaps, but harder to parse I think than Shakespeare. Harder than Alice Walker's The Color Purple or Toni Morrison's Beloved, both of which I read recently. Yet like Chaucer or Shakespeare, there's true poetry in the prose. Right in the second chapter was my favorite passage, among the most extraordinary I've read in literature, where through describing a blossoming pear tree under which Janie Crawford shares her first kiss, we watch a girl come of age: She saw a dust bearing bee sink into the sanctum of a bloom; the thousand sister calyxes arch to meet the love embrace and the ecstatic shiver of the tree from root to tiniest branch creaming in every blossom and frothing with delight. So this was a marriage!There are lyrical passages that sing throughout the novel, striking lines that have the sparkling resonance of the best of literature. So yes, I think taking the time to see through the sometimes difficulties of reading this beyond rewarding. The story surrounds Janie Crawford, her road to self-awareness and love. Given clues in the text, I'd say the story spans from about 1899 when Janie would be sixteen to around 1928 or so. (The book describes what seems to be the Okeechobee Hurricane of 1928.) Janie doesn't really find love until she's about forty, after two husbands, with a man 15 years younger than she is, Tea Cake. (That love of a middle-aged woman with a much younger man was something that in itself I found refreshing.) Compared to her second husband, Joe Stark, who was the mayor of a black-run Florida town and entrepreneur, Tea Cake is poor, even feckless. He's no paragon, and Tea Cake and Janie's relationship with him will, I think, be the other major issue some may have with the book. At one point Tea Cake takes 200 dollars of her money off Janie without telling her and spends it foolishly, and another time to show she belongs to him, he slaps her around. Yet Thurston does show his appeal, why Janie flourishes and grows with him, especially after her loveless marriages with repressive husbands. As she tells her friend Pheoby: He kin take most any lil thing and make summertime out of it when times is dull. Then we lives offa dat happiness he made till some mo' happiness come along. He makes her laugh. He brings back to her the joy she felt under that blossoming pear tree when she was young and dreams were still possible. And if there's poverty and tragedy in their story, there's also no bitterness, no self-pity, but a love of life that imbues this book with light despite dark events. So yes, this is an American classic, and rightly so.
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Their Eyes Were Watching God is the story of Janie Crawford and her growth as a young African American woman in the early twentieth century. Set in Florida, Janie tells her friend Phoebe about her life. Now in her forties, she relates the stories surrounding her three separate marriages to different men and how she came to be where she is now. As a young girl she spent much of her time outside and even began having feelings for a young man. Her grandmother sees her kiss him and fears she will fall subservient to him. She arranges her first marriage to a man named Logan who ultimately only wants a helper in tending to the farm. Janie runs off with a man named Joe Starks who eventually becomes mayor of a town and treats her like a trophy. He oppresses her and keeps her from interacting with people, but once he dies Janie moves on with a man who goes by the name of Tea Cake. A hurricane devastates the area and Tea Cake ends up getting bit by a rabid dog trying to save Janie. He contracts the disease and Janie faces the reality of what she must do.
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A nice story about a woman named Janie as she goes through life, love and marriage. The dialogue in this story really helps the reader connect to the characters along with helping the reader her the words s they would be said.
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First sentenceShips at a distance have every man’s wish on board.Final sentencesHere was peace. She pulled in her horizon like a great fish net. Pulled it from around from around the waist of the world and draped it over her shoulder. So much of life in its meshes! She called in her soul to come and see.These sentences reflect the beauty and lyricism of the narrative of this novel. This story takes the reader on a journey away from the idealized and stereotyped afro American women. Somehow, and in spite of the afro – American dialect in which much of the book is written the way in which our central character Janie grows, develops and reflects upon life as a whole person, as a women has much that spoke to me regardless of skin colour and roots. Speaking personally some of the dialect was at times tough going. Such was the power of the writing, the life of Janie, that the challenge was no longer so! In essence we follow Janie as she journeys from a sixteen year old to a mature woman. Her awakening is likened to her experience of her watching singing bees on a pear tree.‘Oh to be a pear tree – any tree in bloom! With kissing bees singing of the beginning of the world! She was sixteen. She had glossy leaves and bursting buds and she wanted to struggle with her life but it seemed to elude her. Where were the singing bees for her?’A thought provoking story – worthy of four stars. Do be sure to read an edition that contains an introduction by Holly Eley and the afterword by Sherley Anne Williams.
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Janie Crawford is a woman on a mission to find love. Married off by her grandmother at a very young age, Janie is convinced marriage means love. When that isn't the case she moves on to be the wife of Joe Starks who views her as nothing more than eye candy, a trophy to hang off his arm. After the death of Joe, Janie meets a younger man who goes by the name Tea Cake. Tea Cake convinces her to leave town with him and run off to the Everglades. Convinced she has found love at last Janie bends her personality to suit the new relationship she has entered. One of the most dramatic aspects of Their Eyes Were Watching God is that it does not have the ending one would expect. However, it is a pleasure to wade through the thick dialect and watch Janie grow.
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Obviously the prose style is a goddamn legend, that goes without saying. The book is extremely engaging for its language, it's study of a culture, and of that culture's use of language, but the nominal "story" only grabbed me a little bit here and there. The ending worked for me, I'll give it that, but the core of the story (such as it is) is a romance written for (straight, gender-conformant) women.
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Although I was mentally engaged in this book very quickly, it never engaged my emotions. I felt like an observer rather than a participant in the life of the protagonist, Janie. Maybe it's due to the way Janie narrates her own story. At the point in time that the narration occurs, Janie has moved somewhere beyond her initial emotions about the events of her life to reflection and acceptance. I didn't know until after I finished the book that Hurston was an anthropologist, so perhaps her intent was to appeal more to the mind than to the emotions.I was surprised that race wasn't more of a factor in the book. Race was always there in the background, but Janie's main conflict was with her role as a wife, not with her lot as an African American. The reader learns fairly early that Janie was the first generation in her family born in freedom, yet Janie wasn't allowed to define freedom for herself. For Janie's grandmother, Nanny, freedom meant that Janie could live the life of ease that Nanny dreamed of. For Janie's first two husbands, freedom meant that the husband would do his wife's thinking for her. None of them thought of asking Janie what she wanted. Although Janie was outwardly cooperative, she withheld her affection from those who crushed her spirit. Janie finally began to experience freedom as a widow.I liked this book, but didn't love it, so I'm not likely to discover the richness of meaning that would come through multiple readings. It's a book that will stimulate discussion, making it a great choice for the NEA's Big Read program.
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This is the story of Janie Mae Crawford, who was “full of that oldest human longing—self-revelation." Janie is a black woman, living in Florida before World War II, who survives a devastating hurricane. Her story, told in black vernacular, rings true. The narrator begins the story with these words:“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."
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