Their Eyes Were Watching God

AuthorZora Neale Hurston
FinishedMarch 04, 2020
Rating3.1 / 5

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Overall: I liked Their Eyes Were Watching God for its focus on the black community and its organic relationships rather than on the politics of race relations. I liked that the book wasn't a Big Bold Statement about Lynching or Running Away From Slavery or Jim Crowe or Reconstruction. It was about black people with other black people and their everyday lives removed from white people. Although they cannot be entirely removed from white people's negative influences (i.e. Mrs Turner and her obsession with whiteness, the white people at the end that force Tea Cake into grave digging), the focus of the book is NOT on white peoples' exploitation of black people, or on the relationship between black and white people. The book focused more on the black community and their loves and humor and dialogue and dialect and everyday happenings ... and, of course, the story of how a woman finds her independence.

It's very evident how much Janie has matured and grown by the end of the book. When she and Tea Cake are waiting for the storm to come, she tells him: "We been tuhgether round two years. If you kin see de light at daybreak, you don't keer if you die at dusk. It's so many people never seen de light at all. Ah wuz fumblin' round and God opened de door." (159). I found that really poignant: that she doesn't care if she dies now, because she has seen the light at daybreak, she has found the man who loves her, she has been able to live her life these last two years in a way she has not been able to her entire life.

The scene of the night before the day the hurricane hit really bad, with the black migrant workers waiting for the hurricane to come, huddled together and "watching God", was very poignant for me. It was as if they were waiting for God to tell them what to do. Is this an underlying stab that they are not freed from the clutches of white people's slavery, waiting for the God of white people to tell them what to do? Is the scene to show that these folks have done what they could do and have accepted their future and now opened themselves up for God to make the final decision? Or is the scene merely to show that these folks are just really scared and not sure what to do? In fact, this scene reminds me of Janie her entire life, waiting for people to tell her what to do because she was suppressed by those closest to her (her grandmother, her husbands, society) from thinking for herself.

Tea Cake refusing to leave and evacuate from the storm earlier reminded me of an earlier scene, when he goes gambling for the first time after he used up all of Janie's money. The gambling scene earlier in the book is foreshadowing for his later actions. During the hurricane, when he refuses to leave early, like during the gambling scene, he pushed his luck: he hedged his bets wrong and should have gotten out when he could have, when he was ahead and had a profit. Instead, he pushed his luck too much. In the gambling scene, he was stabbed; in the storm scene, he was bitten by a dog with rabies and eventually died from it.

In general I liked Tea Cake (at least, more than Joe). Maybe I'm just an anachronistic reader from the future, but I didn't like how Tea Cake beat Janie just to show that he was an owner of her. And how he described Janie as submissive and as perfect wife because she just wants to be where he is - this struck me as old-fashioned and similar to the language of slavery. Not sure if this was ZNH's point, but it seemed like even in Janie's third marriage, even though she was supposedly happy and in love and all, there were still some signs of abuse from Tea Cake.

Here were some beautiful moments I loved and wanted to highlight:

  • "As soon as Tea Cake went out pushing wind in front of him, he saw that the wind and water had given life to lots of things that folks think of as dead and given death to so much that had been living things. Water everywhere" (160)
  • "It was the meanest moment of eternity" (184)
  • "And Janie sat like a lump and waited. It was not death she feared. It was misunderstanding." (188)
  • "She went on in her overalls. She was too busy feeling grief to dress like grief" (189)
  • "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" (192)
  • "Tea Cake, with the sun for a shawl. Of course he wasn't dead. He could never be dead until she herself had finished feeling and thinking. The kiss of his memory made pictures of love and light against the wall. Here was peace. She pulled in her horizon like a great fish-net. Pulled it 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." (193)