The Eyes Were Watching God By Zora Neal Hurtson: A Book Review

A friend recommended The Eyes Were Watching God to me. Set in southern America during the early 1900s,  Hurtson’s novel tells Janie’s story, an African American woman with fair skin and long hair who enters marriage at a young age because her grandmother insist that this is the best life for Janie. Told in the third person by an omnipresent narrator, the novel follows Janie’s  journey of self-perception within three different marriages.

TEWWG  retained my attention from the beginning. Hurtson’s prose was alluring, skilful and melodic. From southern dialects to metaphors and a soulful, awakening sense of finding love that feels like a ‘…glance from God’, Hurston’s novel was like inhaling and resting in the sun’s warmth. This novel wasn’t plot proven. It was packed with scenes which served a greater purpose of examining black society within central and southern Florida. Individual  events in this novel were significant and shone more light on characters’ attitudes and thoughts.

What I loved most about this novel was Hurston’s treatment of Janie. As a teenager, Janie expected more from life. She was curious about love and life, but she didn’t have an opportunity to explore life on her own terms. Both husbands (Logan and Jody Stark) domesticated Janie and fitted her into a traditional role. They defined her identity as a woman and confined her to the kitchen, the local shop and home. She was rendered voiceless and made a mere possession within both marriages. Her last marriage to Tea Cake was one of equality and greater freedom. This relationship had flaws; however, Janie morphed, step by step, into the woman she always wanted to be, because Tea Cake treated her not as a woman but as a human being. Through Janie and Tea Cake’s relationship, Hurston showed that love in its most equal form is liberating and healing. I liked that Tea Cake, despite his faults and occasional maschoism, refrained from imposing scewed views of women on Janie. For the first time in a long while, Janie had a taste of tender love, respect and joy. Ironically, Tea Cake wasn’t the richest man in world. Yet, he was like honey in Janie’s desolate past of control and inequality.

I admired Janie’s mental strength and  hope. She was full of endurance, and despite her hardships, Janie found her voice. Janie’s third marriage played part in helping her ‘become’ herself. Yet, Janie became the author of her own story. She overcame forced gender roles; and in the end, whether  married or single, Janie lived a life of her own creation.

I enjoyed this book so much. It’s a tale of love, liberation and conflicted sadness.

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