I have a student who will be writing an essay on Zora Neale Hurston’s book, Their Eyes Were Watching God, so I had the pleasure of reading for the first time this book that was published back in 1937. I just finished it yesterday and I have to say that I fell in love with this book from the first lines. Here they are just so you can see what I mean:
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.
Now, women forget all those things they don’t want to remember and remember everything they don’t want to forget. That dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.
Isn’t that beautiful? It is even more glorious once you’ve read the book and understand what the author is referencing.
This is the story of Janie Crawford, an African American woman who grows into her personhood over the course of the novel. She is in pursuit of real love and it takes a while for her to find it and also to grow into herself. The language is lyrical, the story riveting and the conclusion life-affirming. This is not the traditional happily-ever-after story, but rather one that is filled with wisdom and poignancy. I burst into tears at the ending just as I should with any novel worth its salt.
The novel is written partially in Black dialect, which has its challenges, but it’s not nearly as hard to read as Huck Finn, which I read out loud to one of my students with learning issues a few years ago. Now that had challenges!
One of the famous quotes that shows the richness of this book is this: “Two things everybody’s got tuh do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin’ fuh theyselves.”
Amen to that and amen to this book. I am in love with Zora Neale Hurston’s words and feel deep respect for her work as an author. She has written one of those special books that bridges time and demonstrates through richly-drawn characters the heartfelt wisdom of love and life.