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Their Eyes Were Watching God: A Novel Paperback – March 19, 2013

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Editorial Reviews Review

At the height of the Harlem Renaissance during the 1930s, Zora Neale Hurston was the preeminent black woman writer in the United States. She was a sometime-collaborator with Langston Hughes and a fierce rival of Richard Wright. Her stories appeared in major magazines, she consulted on Hollywood screenplays, and she penned four novels, an autobiography, countless essays, and two books on black mythology. Yet by the late 1950s, Hurston was living in obscurity, working as a maid in a Florida hotel. She died in 1960 in a Welfare home, was buried in an unmarked grave, and quickly faded from literary consciousness until 1975 when Alice Walker almost single-handedly revived interest in her work.

Of Hurston's fiction, Their Eyes Were Watching God is arguably the best-known and perhaps the most controversial. The novel follows the fortunes of Janie Crawford, a woman living in the black town of Eaton, Florida. Hurston sets up her characters and her locale in the first chapter, which, along with the last, acts as a framing device for the story of Janie's life. Unlike Wright and Ralph Ellison, Hurston does not write explicitly about black people in the context of a white world--a fact that earned her scathing criticism from the social realists--but she doesn't ignore the impact of black-white relations either:

It was the time for sitting on porches beside the road. It was the time to hear things and talk. These sitters had been tongueless, earless, eyeless conveniences all day long. Mules and other brutes had occupied their skins. But now, the sun and the bossman were gone, so the skins felt powerful and human. They became lords of sounds and lesser things. They passed nations through their mouths. They sat in judgment.
One person the citizens of Eaton are inclined to judge is Janie Crawford, who has married three men and been tried for the murder of one of them. Janie feels no compulsion to justify herself to the town, but she does explain herself to her friend, Phoeby, with the implicit understanding that Phoeby can "tell 'em what Ah say if you wants to. Dat's just de same as me 'cause mah tongue is in mah friend's mouf."

Hurston's use of dialect enraged other African American writers such as Wright, who accused her of pandering to white readers by giving them the black stereotypes they expected. Decades later, however, outrage has been replaced by admiration for her depictions of black life, and especially the lives of black women. In Their Eyes Were Watching God Zora Neale Hurston breathes humanity into both her men and women, and allows them to speak in their own voices. --Alix Wilber --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"There is no book more important to me than this one." --Alice WalkerA --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 219 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics; Reissue edition (January 3, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060838671
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060838676
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,138 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #23,588 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

382 of 400 people found the following review helpful By Michael J. Mazza HALL OF FAME on September 23, 2001
Format: Paperback
"There Eyes Were Watching God," by Zora Neale Hurston, is widely acknowledged as a beloved classic of American literature. This novel is truly one of those great works that remains both entertaining and deeply moving; it is a book for classrooms, for reading groups of all types, and for individual readers.
In "There Eyes," Hurston tells the life story of Janie, an African-American woman. We accompany Janie as she experiences the very different men in her life. Hurston's great dialogue captures both the ongoing "war of the sexes," as well as the truces, joys, and tender moments of male-female relations. But equally important are Janie's relationships with other Black women. There are powerful themes of female bonding, identity, and empowerment which bring an added dimension to this book.
But what really elevates "Their Eyes" to the level of a great classic is Hurston's use of language. This is truly one of the most poetic novels in the American canon. Hurston blends the engaging vernacular speech of her African-American characters with the lovely "standard" English of her narrator, and in both modes creates lines that are just beautiful.
"Their Eyes" captures the universal experiences of pain and happiness, love and loss. And the whole story is told with both humor and compassion. If you haven't read it yet, read it; if you've already read it, read it again.
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104 of 111 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 27, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
At the end, I closed the book and I cried. Then I wanted to open it and start reading all over again from the beginning. Janie is a woman who has endured oppression, suppression, and tragedy. She found love and she found herself. She not only survived but discovered her own strength and accepted life without self-destructing. Janie, is every woman's hero, most certainly mine.
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166 of 181 people found the following review helpful By Joanna D. #1 HALL OF FAMETOP 10 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 17, 2007
Format: Paperback
"Their Eyes were Watching God" has been variously described as feminist literature (though written in 1930), African-American literature (though the story is about people, first and foremost, and race is secondary to the novel) and as a lost masterpiece. It's a lost masterpiece. Thanks to Alice Walker and Oprah Winfrey, the book was brought back to the public's attention.

One of the issues with reading Hurston's novel is that it's written in dialect--in Hurston's rendition of how Southern Florida black dialect could be spelled out to her. So reading the book is a bit slow; you have to sound out the words in your mind. If this is a problem, then I'd suggest you listen to the book on tape (ably performed by Ruby Dee) and then read the book afterwards.

The story has barely a plot; Janey is a young woman whose grandmother was born in slavery. Her aspirations are no further than the front porch; to live in comfort means being simply able to sit, to sit on the porch and not be in constant motion, working every hour of every day for bare subsistence. She finds an older, established husband for Janey and insists she marry. Janey, then, has a life where, with reasonable work, she can fill her belly and sleep in shelter. Her life is not much better than that of a well-cared-for mule.

One day, Janey runs off with Jody Starks, a man of means who charms her with his worldy ways. This is a man going places. And they do go places; to Eatonville, a town that was chartered as an African-American community. Starks sees opportunity in every corner of dusty Eatonville, buys land, builds a store and a house and installs the beautiful Janey as a symbol of his mastery.

As Mayor, Starks has appearances to keep up.
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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful By D. Cloyce Smith on July 6, 2003
Format: Paperback
Hurston spend much of her life collecting and transcribing the traditions and stories of African Americans and Caribbean cultures. In addition to her volumes on folklore and ethnology, she wrote four novels and several stories and coauthored a play with Langston Hughes, all of which drew heavily on the material she collected for her studies and on events from her own life. Of her works of fiction, "Their Eyes Were Watching God" is undoubtedly her best and, after reading it a second time, I have even more admiration for her accomplishment.

One of the reasons the book resonates today with so many readers is the story's major theme: the difficulty of reconciling the struggle between social approval and well-being, on the one hand, and passion and self-respect, on the other. The heroine, Janie, must often do what is expected of her (by her grandmother, her husbands, or the community) at the expense of her own pleasure.

Yet Hurston intends to do more than tell a simple story of a Southern black woman looking for Mr. Right. The author introduces characters and sketches that have less to do with the advancement of the plot and more to do with creating an environment: what life was like for black communities in Florida during the early twentieth century--the humor and the resentment, the misery and the fortitude, the camaraderie and the backstabbing. Characteristic of this leisurely documentary method is the manner in which the town's older inhabitants razz one another or the tale of Matt and his yellow mule, which manages to be at once funny, appalling, touching, and inspiring. All in all, the use of dialect and the meandering style make this novel not an "easy read" but a rewarding one.
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