Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston was a book that I had sitting on my shelf for about five months after picking it up at the local library’s annual book sale. I was drawn in not only by the cover art (1998 Harper Perennial Modern Classics paperback edition), but I was also attracted to the name on the cover. Zora Neale Hurston has always been a name that would come up when talking about the Harlem Renaissance. My mom had a poster that she always kept with all the notable figures of the Harlem Renaissance, and among names such as Langston Hughes, Marcus Garvey, and Madam C.J. Walker, Zora Neale Hurston was featured. I bought the book and promised to read it and this weekend I decided to.
I’ll start off by saying that it was a fantastic read, most likely one of the greatest books I’ve ever read. It was a bit tricky at first to get past the fact that the character’s dialogue is all is southern African- American vernacular, but I realized that if I took my time and actually read what was on the page instead of my usual ‘fast-read’, the dialogue became a lot clearer and the book more enjoyable. The main character Janie starts out her story after returning to her town; she tells her life story to a close friend of hers after being the talk of the town. I won’t include any spoilers because I highly suggest you all read it for yourselves, but throughout this novel, you will see Janie grow. Her search for an identity in a world where your lot in life is pretty much already set brings to light many social issues that still exist within the African American community today. Although things have vastly changed since the period Janie lived, there still exists a search for identity within every woman, including black women, and hopes of defying stereotypes and stigmas that are still present today.
Janie also lived in a world that many of our (great) grandparents grew up in. Although my maternal grandmother grew up in Jamaica and not the southern US, many of her experiences are similar to those described in the book. There were passages where Hurston highlights some of the sad realities and issues that exist within the Black community. I also appreciated how even though these characters were living during the post-slavery era where racism was still very prevalent, Hurston portrayed many of the characters as happy, content, small town folks who had a strong sense of community.
I watched the movie starring Halle Berry after I finished reading the book. Of course, producers had to consolidate over 20 years of life experiences into a 2-hour film, so there were a few moments from the book that were missing from the movie. I still loved the movie. I thought the cast was perfect, and I think Zora Neale Hurston would be very proud to see her work honored in that way.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who is looking to be moved emotionally. The book beautifully uses metaphors and symbols to describe thoughts and feelings that could only be described the way they were. I look forward to reading some more of Ms. Hurston’s work.