Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 114: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

by | Oct 24, 2022 | 2022 Book Reviews, Marion's Favorite Books, Marion's Favorites, Wisdom From Kammbia Column | 0 comments

“Let ’em consolate theyselves wid talk. ‘Course, talkin’ don’t amount tuh uh hill uh beans when yuh can’t do nothin’ else. And listenin’ tuh dat kind uh talk is jus’ lak openin’ yo’ mouth and lettin’ de moon shine down yo’ throat. It’s uh known fact, Phoeby, you got tuh go there tuh know there. Yo’ papa and  yo’ mama and nobody else can’t tell yuh and show yuh. Two things everybody’s got tuh do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin’ fuh theyselves.”

Janie Crawford, the free-spirited protagonist of Zora Neale Hurston’s modern classic, Their Eyes Were Watching God, provides wisdom about experience over talk.  The above paragraph comes at the end of the novel where Janie returns to Eatonville, an all black-town just north of Orlando, Florida. Eatonville is the oldest black-incorporated city in the United States. Incorporated in 1887, it is the first town successfully established by African American freedmen. The founding of this town stands as an enormous achievement for once-enslaved black men and women throughout the country. Hurston is from Eatonville and creates the backdrop for Janie’s story.

Janie just buried her third husband, Tea Cake Woods, and tells her best friend, Phoeby, that the people of Eatonville can talk all they want.  But, they have not lived her journey and until those people find out in their own lives what life is truly about, their commentary about her doesn’t matter.  Indeed.

The novel chronicles Janie’s journey through three marriages that shaped her life. Hurston shows a women’s dilemma in finding love and how true happiness can be elusive.  I will admit that the dialect used throughout the novel (as shown at the beginning of this blog post) was an adjustment to read at first.  However, Janie’s story was interesting, and the dialect did not distract from the narrative.  The story’s ending turns the novel into artistry.

Their Eyes Were Watching God has been written about by academics, read by high school and college students, and the movie starring Halle Berry, as Janie Crawford has given the novel another avenue to be discussed from now on.  I don’t have a lot more to add other than I’m glad that I have finally read one of the most important novels in American literature.  I found out that Hurston’s novel was not well-received upon publication in 1937 and went out of print for a time.  Thanks to Alice Walker and others that recognized Hurston’s art and demanded this novel (and her other work) be removed from obscurity.  The African American experience is multilayered and art has a way of showing all facets of a people that’s necessary for society to see where we have been in order to know where we have to go.






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