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Their Eyes Were Watching God [Paperback]

Zora Neale Hurston
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (758 customer reviews)

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Book Description

November 25, 1998 0060931418 978-0060931414 Reissue
Fair and long-legged, independent and articulate, Janie Crawford sets out to be her own person -- no mean feat for a black woman in the '30s. Janie's quest for identity takes her through three marriages and into a journey back to her roots.

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


"Their Eyes belongs in the same categorywith that of William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingwayof enduring American literature." -- Saturday Review

"The prototypical Black novel of affirmation; it is the most successful, convincing, and exemplary novel of Blacklove that we have. Period." -- June Jordon, Black World

"There is no book more important to me than this one." -- Alice Walker

Product Details

  • Series: Perennial Classics
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics; Reissue edition (November 25, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060931418
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060931414
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.2 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (758 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #11,247 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
334 of 349 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Probably Hurston's greatest gift to world literature September 23, 2001
"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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134 of 144 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An American Masterpiece, well worth reading October 17, 2007
"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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72 of 78 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Every woman's hero. January 27, 2000
By A Customer
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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57 of 64 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Novel; thank you to my AP English Class May 29, 2000
By Anon
This is one of those obscure but great novels--and writers--that I probably never would have discovered or read if it were not for my AP English class (it was on my required summer reading list; which only adds to my already hefty personal reading list, which is ever growing.)I at first wondered why a highschool teacher chose a work not as known or recognized, but figured it out when I realized how local the books setting was (I live in Orlando, FL, which is between most of the settings in the book, and made mention of several times.) But enough of how I came about reading it...
Hurston's novel turned out to be a beautifuly told tale. The insight into the main character, Janie Crawford, was very strong and eloquently told. Also, if you love a lot of beautiful imagery, this is a good example. Every chapter opened--and many closed--with though provoking metaphors and philosophies. The oft-aclaimed dialogue (written in the afro-american dialect of the time period) added a lot to the atmosphere. One of the few, and relatively minor criticisms I can find in this book is that large amounts of space are lost between chapters, and in some cases within them, without transition which is jarring and pulls you out of the fictional dream.
All in all, I would highly recommend this book. It has a beautiful story and is beautifully told.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thier Eyes....wonderfully rendered May 27, 2008
Format:Audio CD
This audio production on CD of Zora Neale Hurston's "Their Eyes Were Watching God" is beautifully read by Ruby Dee. Hurston was known for her ability to write in the dialect of the rural South, thereby imbuing her work with a verisimilitude that makes it possible for a modern reader to feel connected to her characters in a visceral way. However, while trying to read the print edition of this marvelous story, I found myself often reading aloud. In effect, I had to translate as I went, which was frustrating. By listenig to Ruby Dee's inspired reading, I was able to be transported directly to the time & place depicted in Hurston's masterwork. The story of Janie's life, her increasing awareness of herself as a woman, and then as a Black woman, during a time when both were de-valued, is full of drama, and hope. I'm very glad that Zora Neale Hurston was 're-discovered' in time for me to discover her for myself.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A classic.
Published 17 hours ago by judy tattersall
4.0 out of 5 stars I would recommend it to others
This was an enjoyable read. I would recommend it to others.
Published 1 day ago by Baja Book Junkie
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredible book
An incredible and inspiring journey. This is the rare book that I actually think deserves the title of "classic". I couldn't put it down and I would recommend it highly.
Published 7 days ago by Randy Hathaway
1.0 out of 5 stars One Star
I didn't care for the read that much, but hey I tried lol.
Published 7 days ago by dominique
3.0 out of 5 stars alright
The ending was pretty good but the rest of it leading up to it was not quite as amusing. It's not a bad read and I would suggest it to anyone who likes a good love story.
Published 8 days ago by Gabrielle Patterson
5.0 out of 5 stars Vividly Rendered

This book deserves 5 stars for the language alone. Hurston's lyricism and use of the African-American vernacular of the period is just brilliant. Read more
Published 8 days ago by AvidReader
5.0 out of 5 stars LOVE this Book!
While I've had HS students tell me they don't care for this novel, I totally fell in love with it as a 40-something reading it for a college literature class. Read more
Published 14 days ago by Carliee
4.0 out of 5 stars Stick with it, you won't regret it!
I loved it! Well worth the time to decipher some of the phonetic language, eapecily as it adds such an authentic quality to the story. Read more
Published 16 days ago by Elizabeth
5.0 out of 5 stars Worthwhile read!
Hurston is an amazing writer; this novel gives the reader insights into the culture/experiences that existed at this time. Entertaining and extremely educational at the same time.
Published 16 days ago by Jennifer Bigelow
5.0 out of 5 stars How could I have missed it?
An American treasure! Zora Neale Hurston is a master story teller and should be better known! I am so glad I discovered her on one of the 100 best books.
Published 17 days ago by Avi Wrobel
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