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26 Aug 2009

Their Eyes Were Watching God





Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston was a really enjoyable read.... but, how ridiculous! I had already read this! I didn't realise until the last quarter of the story. Ah well, it had been so many years that I couldn't remember how it ended. I think I read it back in my early 20's.

Now you might think, well, if you didn't recall it it couldn't have be so good. Well, it isn't a story that haunted me and remained with for years to come, that's true, but it's no less a great read. Her prose is lyrical and with all the richness of the black community of the time. I do tend to find novels with a lot of dialect a little too much like work, but it's essential here. The idioms are tasty morsels in the banquet of this tale. And of course, we know now how the initial outrage at Hurston's use of dialect has been replaced with admiration. What matters, is that she allowed these people tell their own tale with their own voices.

My suggestion is that if you really struggle with reading dialects, then try this one in audio format. For me, I found two things helpful. That I have watched enough American films depicting similar vernacular speech to 'hear' the dialogue in my head, and that the style was consistent and regular throughout.



So the story of Janie is told through her own eyes. She's married off to one man, runs off with another, and then finds love with a third.

The familiar people and things had failed her so she hung over the gate and looked up the road towards way off.


Although the drama is set against freedom from slavery and the building of the first black communities, these are mere distant details, a frame to hang Janie's story. Yet even the story isn't what makes this novel. It's interesting enough, though not the most compelling, but it's the prose and the themes that are captivating. Hurston has us considering female bonds, female and male differences, injustice in (rather than to) the black community, true love, independence, and personal fulfillment.

Us talks about de white man keepin' us down! Shucks! He don't have tuh. Us keeps our own selves down.


There is such a raw honesty in the depiction of the characters. Though again I wouldn't say that they are the most engaging, as the themes and prose take centre stage. However, they are real enough, and none is too bad or too good. Not even Janie's true love is spared of flaws. Janie's initial idealistic hopes are not so much fulfilled nor are they trampled on, but rather merged with the grit of reality. It is a personal fulfillment that defies idealism.

This is both an important work, almost lost to obscurity, as well as an enjoyable read.

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