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334 of 349 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Probably Hurston's greatest gift to world literature
"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...
Published on September 23, 2001 by Michael J. Mazza

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39 of 45 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Value as historical artifact
Funny how folks seem to love this or hate it. I admire the author's creativeness in the context of her time: the use of vernacular was quite creative at the time, and brings the reader intimately to the story. The very subject matter, a young black woman on a journey of self discovery-- easy to take for granted today how remarkable this publication must have been...
Published on August 29, 2006 by Avid Rita


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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
This review is from: Their Eyes Were Watching God (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. He has Janey stay in the house or work in the store, and when in the store, she is to keep her head covered. Janey has a wealth of long abundant hair, which Hurston uses as a symbol of life. Janey's hair is flowing and startling; men covet it. As the hair is covered, so is every enjoyment and thought Janey has. She chafes for 20 years under Stark's restrictive rules.

The scene where the "town mule"--a mule freed by Starks from an abusive owner and that became a sort of mascot, dies and is buried in the swamp is exceptional writing, worthy of Mark Twain. The mule is eulogized (by Stark, standing at one point on the mule as podium) and then abandoned to the waiting buzzards. The following scene where the buzzards arrive to do their undertaking is a flight of fancy that is hardly equalled in American literature. All along the book, Hurston takes smaller flights of language; her descriptions sometimes soar, or are humorous or completely imaginative.

Janey runs off after Stark's death with "Tea Cake"--a younger man. While her first two marriages were for the sustenance of the body (food, shelter, comfort, a home) this marriage is for the sustenance of the soul. Tea Cake plays guitar, plays games, dances, gambles, sings and flirts. Hurston is too clever to make him perfect; he hurts Janey, as only someone who loves another person can hurt them, and he is a bit of a cad, yet he brings out something in Janey that no life of pure material wealth could do--freedom and sensuality and joy. The culmination of the story is rather contrived, but still, the completion of the three marriages tells almost a fable-like story of a quest for personal growth. Janey comes home to Eatonville, and tells her story to Phoeby, her friend. The rest of the tale is up to us to fill in.

Sometimes the writing reminds me of Virginia Woolf--the interior dialog and mood of the character is the action as much or more than the action happening on the story's stage. Sometimes Hurston reminds me of Twain in her delving into the linguistic richness and uniqueness of Floridian life. Her education as a folklorist sharpened her ear, but her deep honesty into the interior life of women is what makes this story so great. It's definitely one of the top American novels and deserves to be read.
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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
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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
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
By 
J. Walker (Phoenix, AZ USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Even better the second time around, July 6, 2003
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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.
It saddens me that so many high school students are required to read this book. (I can relate: an exposure to "Julius Caesar" in the ninth grade instilled in me a loathing of Shakespeare that took me a decade to overcome.) This is a book to be savored like fine wine, not administered like cough syrup. An exceptional teacher with a classroom of widely-read students (as in AP English) might well succeed in stimulating enthusiasm for the story of Janie and Tea Cake, but it's certainly not a book meant to be crammed in a night's panic in order to answer a series of exam questions.
For those readers young and old who do enjoy "Their Eyes Were Watching God," I also recommend Hurston's first novel, "Jonah's Gourd Vine," which portrays the same period and communities while recounting episodes based very closely on the author's own childhood.
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39 of 45 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Value as historical artifact, August 29, 2006
By 
Avid Rita (Cambridge, MA United States) - See all my reviews
Funny how folks seem to love this or hate it. I admire the author's creativeness in the context of her time: the use of vernacular was quite creative at the time, and brings the reader intimately to the story. The very subject matter, a young black woman on a journey of self discovery-- easy to take for granted today how remarkable this publication must have been. That said, as a contemporary reader I didn't love this book and had to push myself to finish it (for my book club). Hard to care for this protaganist who passively scribes herself in relation to a succession of husbands. I just didn't like the person she was! But worth trying for yourself, I think.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A revelation, May 23, 2007
I am very glad to have finally read this masterpiece. I admit to having avoided Zora Neale Hurston for years, for all the wrong reasons. I react badly to appeals to political correctness, diversity, and white male guilt. But these prejudices were completely blown out of the water by actually reading this radiant book. For Hurston simply writes about PEOPLE -- people of a particular race, gender, time, and place, yes -- but people whose human identity flourishes from these circumstances without being in any way confined by them. I don't think I have read any work of African-American literature that is so little concerned with race tensions, poverty, or the legacy of slavery. As Henry Louis Gates Jr. quotes in his fine afterword to the Harper Perennial edition, Hurston wanted to write about "racial health -- a sense of black people as complete, complex, UNDIMINISHED human beings, a sense that is lacking in so much black writing and literature" [emphasis hers].

For all that, THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD is a difficult book to begin. At first, Hurston seems to be writing in two languages, likely to be equally foreign to many readers. One is the phonetically rendered dialect of her characters, which her contemporaries criticized as making them sound ignorant, but is in fact part and parcel of their vigorous life. The other is the free-form poetry of her descriptions, ordinary words strung together in unexpected ways so that they become quite new. But soon the two voices become as one: the voice of thought unfettered by academic rules. And the power of unfettered thought, the possibility of being oneself without regard to rules or roles, is the enduring theme of the book.

The story is a simple one. Janie Crawford, fortyish, independent, returns to her community in 1920s Florida, which she had left two years before to marry a much younger man, nicknamed Tea Cake. While most of the women gossip disapprovingly, assuming the worst, she starts to tell her friend Pheoby not only about her life with Tea Cake, but also about the two marriages that preceded it. The first, when she was only a teenager, offered her protection. The second brought a measure of material prosperity. But it is only in the hand-to-mouth existence of the third that she has been able to discover her true self. Janie's story, which began in defiance, ends in quiet luminosity -- and there are many years of her life still ahead of her.

Zora Neale Hurston was also a folklorist, and her writing is illuminated not only by the gossip, traded insults, and tall stories of the Florida blacks, but also by a country mythology that brings in animals and even plants as characters in the story. There are wonderful set pieces, such as the funeral of a mule that begins as a holiday for the entire community and ends with a humorous description of a group of buzzards waiting on permission from their leader before stripping the bones. Other sequences build detail upon detail to terrifying effect, as the South Florida hurricane of 1928 that forms the climax of the book, and precipitates its concluding events.

The Harper Perennial paperback is a joy to read, with a cover design by Robin Bilardello that calls to mind a drawing by Leonardo da Vinci, an excellent foreword by Edwige Danticat, and the Henry Louis Gates afterword. One piece of advice though: read the afterword first, if you like, but save the foreword to the end, as it gives away many details of the plot that you will enjoy discovering for yourself, surrendering to Hurston's magnificent narrative rhythm.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Harlem Renaissance Classic!, February 24, 2001
By 
THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD is a haunting story told in the black vernacular about one woman's search for true love and independence. At age 16, Janie Crawford believes that she has every right to find true love on her terms. The day she lay beneath a pear tree in her grandmother's backyard and witnessed a bee pollinating there was the day she realized the sensual pleasures she wanted very much to experience in her life. But instead of her being able to explore these feelings and find her soul mate, she is confined to a couple of loveless marriages. The first was to a much older man, Logan Killicks, out of financial security and respectability (under the advisement of her randmother). The second marriage to Jody Starks was out of desperation to escape her first marriage and for security. But it will be Janie's third marriage to a much younger man, Tea Cake, which allows her to feel a sense of freedom in choosing someone to love openly for the very first time. Of course when the Eatonville community she lives in shows their displeasure over her relationship with Tea Cake, Janie throws caution to the wind by marrying and moving away with him to start a new life in the Everglades. Even though her third marriage ends tragically with her killing Tea Cake in self-defense, she doesn't seem to regret her experience. In fact, she makes peace with all that has happened in her life and returns to Eatonville in spite of the envious stares and gossip from the people speculating what happened between her and Tea Cake. She comes back no longer under the ownership of a man, but as a self-assured independent woman who owes no one any explanations.
After reading this novel and discovering that Zora Neale Hurston was the recipient of 2 Guggenheims, the author of 4 novels, 12 short stories, 12 essays, 2 musicals, and 2 black mythologies, I could not help wondering how this literary giant disappeared from us for nearly 3 decades. To my disappointment I learned that her disappearance was due to her peers (mainly Richard Wright) criticizing her openly and publicly for not writing about the so-called "serious social trends" of the time. But what I cannot understand is how her peers could not think what happened to Janie Crawford (and women like her) by husbands and the community at large was not a serious social trend of the time. Just because Zora chose to write about the injustices done within the black community rather than the injustices done to the black community did not make her works any less poignant. The appeal and rediscovery of this novel by scholars, women writers, and the American public in general has definitely made THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD into a timeless classic of the Harlem Renaissance era.
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64 of 78 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars _The_ Modern love story, December 2, 1999
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Other modernists, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Edith Wharton, tore apart the classical love story, dependant as it was on outer union, on a coupling of circumstance and fate. Age of Innocence is a biting parody, exposing the superficiality of, for example, Jane Austen's society romances (despite their unsurpassed wit). Gatsby buys into classical script, but the carefully constructed narrative of Romantic love he tries to realize is shattered by the realities of a modern age. He is left, staring at an empty window because he cannot believe that Daisy is not behind it gazing at him, but downstairs coming to terms with her husband. Their Eyes Were Watching God, however, fills the void left by others' criticism. At first, romantic love sweeps Hurston's heroine too off her feet: "From now on until death she was going to have flower dust and springtime sprinkled over everything. A bee for her bloom." But this is unsatisfying, and eventually the book reveals a love story for the modern age, which finds as its essence not external union, but inner, personal fulfillment and genuine partnership. This is not to say Hurston's vision is more 'realistic,' or less rare, but that, as an ideal, it is far more relevant than its predecessors. Hurston's lovers find in each other not alabaster idols, but a mutual epiphany. "They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God."
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Their Eyes Were Watching God
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (Paperback - May 30, 2006)
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