Their Eyes Were Watching God
Zora Neale Hurston
Two things everybody's got tuh do fuh theyseles. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin' fuh theyselves.This story is either beautifully tragic or tragically beautiful. Maybe it is not meant to be tragic at all, but I felt the tragic.
|Jules Andre Smith (1880-1959)|
Some details and some spoilers
The setting is Florida, early 1900s. Slavery had been abolished for fifty years, and black men and women were building their communities. The protagonist, Janie, a young woman, was raised by her grandmother, whose view of the world was still set in the time of slavery. She married Janie off to save her from developing a bad image.
That union did not last long because it was a cheap relationship, lacking in love and a million other important things. Before long, Janie ran off with another man - younger than her first husband, at least - and married him. He promised her the world, and converted her into a fine lady; together they built up the first black incorporated town of Eatonville.
For twenty years, Janie obeyed her husband and supported his egotistical image, when all she wanted to do was to simply love him. He did not treat her as an equal, with dignity; he treated her like his many possessions.
One day he got sick and died, and Janie was so free and happy, you could taste it. She was also set for life and did not need to rely on anyone to take care of her. That is, until a much younger man came to town - literally sweeping Janie off her feet - and took her away from Eatonville.
I know you may be thinking, "NOOOOOO! Don't do it!" That was what I was screaming, too. But this was different than her last two relationships. This man, Tea Cake, made Janie (pushing forty) feel like a little girl. She felt like she could finally be herself. She experienced her love and life for the first time.
Now personally, I did not trust Tea Cake. (It is my own experience.) But I was leery of him, and why not? He took Janie away from her livelihood, her friends, and what I perceived to be her freedom. And he did some questionable things; but for Janie, it worked for her.
Then something tragic happened and changed life all over again. In that time of uncertainty, Janie learned that she must look to God for His provisions. All of life was out of their control, and the white people whom they thought knew everything were actually not in control of their circumstances either. They were in the dark, too. And so, her eyes were on God, waiting for what He would do next.
In the end, Janie returned to Eatonville, to the speculation of the town as to what really happened to her; and no one knew anything. But she did share her whole story with a close friend, and she explained that
love ain't something lak uh grindstone dat's de same thing everywhere and do de same thing tuh everything it touch. Love is lak de sea. It's uh movin' thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it's different with every shore.End spoilers
Jules Andre Smith
This is an amazing story, full of beautiful language and themes and truths. It is a proclamation of Hurston's viewpoint regarding issues of marriage and society in the 1900s, effecting black women. But even more so, it is an account of human nature, and how we think of love and life and other people.
I loved this book; I am so happy to have read it, and I would definitely read it again in the future.
P.S. Immediately afterward, I watched the 2005 film on YouTube, which was equally enjoyable, even though the movie had to leave out or change little details.
Watch the entire movie via YouTube: