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Their Eyes Were Watching God Paperback – Deckle Edge, May 30, 2006
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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.
""Their Eyes" belongs in the same category -- with that of William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway -- of enduring American literature."-- "Saturday Review"" . . . thanks to this audiobook, Zora's characters speak to us - through the wonderful voice of Ruby Dee."-"The Heard Word"Dee is marvelous in all roles in this stage-worthy performance."-"AudioFile --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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SPOILER ALERT -
I like how the story unfolds. All the poor black people are finally done with work, so they sit on their porches and watch Janie as she comes home. Everybody gossips and wonders where she has been and what has happened to her. Her friend Pheoby goes to ask her, and Janie tells Pheoby all about what has happened in her life. She tells Pheoby about what Nanny said.
What happened was that when Nanny saw Janie kissing a boy, she (Nanny) decided to tell Janie that she always wanted to see Janie get married, instead of ending up like her (Nanny). She tells Janie that she (Nanny) was a slave, and that the overseer was the father of Janie's mom, and that the overseer's wife said she was going to see her (Nanny) punished for having a baby with her husband, the overseer. So one night Nanny and the baby (Janie's mom) escaped.
Eventually they were taken in by nice white people who helped put Janie's mom through school. Then Janie goes on to explain that one day her mom literally crawled back home to Nanny. It turns out she (Janie's mom) was molested by a schoolteacher, of all people. That's how Janie ended up coming into the world (she never meets the schoolteacher, who is her natural father. He's out of the story. He's just barely mentioned).
Anyway, Nanny said that she didn't want any of that sort of thing to happen to Janie. So Janie met Logan Killicks and married him. At first he was nice to her, but then he treated her like dirt, so she left him for another smooth-talking guy named Joe Starks, who was also called Jody.
Joe was very ambitious. He married Janie, then made himself become the mayor of the town, and of course, Janie became the mayor's wife. At first, Jody was nice to her, but then he was less and less kind and sweet as time went on. For example, he didn't let her wear her hair down. He scolded her about every little thing. They ran a grocery store, but he always told her she was doing everything wrong. Also, he didn't like to see her talking to anybody. He was very bossy and controlling.
After about 20 years, Janie became hardened and eventually told him off. She didn't hate him or anything, but she didn't let him mistreat her anymore, especially when she noticed that he was not as handsome as he used to be, and he had begun getting saggy and flabby and frail and weak. He soon died from poor health
After about eight or nine months, Janie was visited by another smooth-talker whose nickname was Tea Cake. They started hanging out together, and cooking fish and corn bread and eating together, and going hunting and fishing and to the movies. Eventually Janie and Tea Cake got married. Tea Cake wasn't a bad guy at all, although he was mainly good for only gambling (and winning), and growing beans. Growing beans is what he did when they moved to the Everglades in Florida.
Then there was a terrible hurricane. Tea Cake and Janie seemed to be watching the sky (but "their eyes were watching God", to see what God would do about the hurricane, and to see whether God would let them live).
While trying to escape the hurricane, Tea Cake got bitten by a dog when he was trying to prevent the dog from attacking Janie as she hung on to the tail of a cow in order to survive the hurricane floods. Eventually, Tea Cake ended up getting rabies (it wasn't specified in the book, but the symptoms of rabies were described---for example, Tea Cake could no longer tolerate water). When he lurched toward her with a gun in his hand, she had to end up shooting him dead.
She went to trial and was found innocent. After the trial, she picked herself up and went back home, and the story ends with her telling her friend Pheoby that this was the way things happened.