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theireyeswerewatchinggod

There are novels that I feel myself unequal to reviewing properly, this is certainly one of those novels. An American classic that I suspect will improve even further with subsequent readings.

I bought this novel recently and then discovered that the classic club had chosen it as their sync read, well I was delighted to have an excuse to read it so soon. It is a deeply touching novel, lyrical and evocative and I suspect will prove to be very memorable. From the first line of this novel, the writing is sublime.

“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 same 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. Now, women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.”

Written in the late 1930’s in those still very difficult years for African-American people between slavery and the civil rights movement, Their Eyes were watching God is a novel about a young woman’s search for the freedom to be herself. Janie Crawford has been raised by her grandmother, a woman born into slavery, whose idea of freedom and security compels her to arrange a marriage between sixteen year old Janie and a middle-aged man with sixty acres. Janie is a light-skinned black woman, with long straight hair to her waist – her colour and appearance something for which Janie is judged for, and drooled over by both men and women throughout the novel. Janie is destined to be dictated to, decisions taken out of her hands first by her grandmother and then by the men in her life. It is Janie’s search for her own voice and independence that is at the heart of this wonderful novel. Janie finds her first marriage to be a disappointment – falling short of the ideas of love she had hoped for.

“Oh to be a pear tree – any tree in bloom! With kissing bees singing of the beginning of the world!”

When Joe Starks come walking down the road –with a story of a new town called Eatonville in Florida, a town just for black people, he turns Janie’s head and she goes off with him to start a new life.

he did not represent sun-up and pollen and blooming trees, but he spoke for far horizon. He spoke for change and chance.”

Only Janie doesn’t find the freedom she thinks she will, tied to a man who likes the sound of his own voice and telling people what to do, Janie finds herself suffocated, working in the store and being criticised for what she does. It is only after this second marriage that Janie finally finds her true love, a man who seems far from perfect, going by the name of Tea-cake, he is twelve years younger than Janie, has no money and gambles, all he has to offer her is a packet of seeds. However when it comes to Tea-Cake Janie makes her own decision, ignoring the disapproval of the people of Eatonville Janie decides to take a chance on what she has always been looking for.
As the novel opens Janie – now around forty years old, returns to Eatonville after an absence of nearly two years. The last the town saw of Janie she had been leaving with Tea-cake – now she has returned alone. Did Tea-cake take all her money and run off with a younger woman? That is what the local gossips think, upon her return Janie tells her story to her friend Pheoby Watson, the story of her great love for Tea-Cake and how she has come to return on her own.
With its rich poetic language and vibrant authentic speech of depression era African-American people, “Their Eyes Were Watching God’ is a deeply poignant novel about a woman’s struggle to find herself.

zoranealehurston

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