Their Eyes Were Watching God was my other main read for DiverseAThon. (The other, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, I reviewed here). This is a classic of African American literature, written by Zora Neale Hurston and originally published 1937. It needs no introduction, really. Universally accoladed, it tells the story of Janie as she marries three times – growing and learning each time.
I’ll admit, I knew exactly nothing about the book when I went into it. I’m quite ashamed of the fact that this was the first time I had read this novel. I’ve read quite a lot of the Harlem Renaissance poetry, but I never even thought to explore what came next, especially by female writers. Once again, it really made me check my privilege, and think about my reading habits. And isn’t that what diverse book blogging is all about?!
Their Eyes Were Watching God is Janie’s life, as she relates it to her friend Pheoby. Although it is written in first person, because she is looking back, it is a bit more distanced than one might expect for this point-of-view. Personally, I don’t tend to like first person, so I enjoyed this a lot. The novel felt personal enough, though, because of the stylised dialect and speech. This was the best part of the book, in my opinion. It really made me slow down and savour the words, which rang with complete Southern charm. I imagine this could be a little tricky for some readers, but in my head I could hear it so well – it was quite a joy to read.
I also loved that the book was quietly feminist. In each marriage, Janie learns more about herself and what she needs in order to be her fullest self. She knows that, although she was the wife of a mayor, it is Tea Cake, an itinerant worker, who will make her happy. Although far from the romantic ideals she starts off with, her life with Tea Cake is better, because it makes everything, even the hardest of physical labour, feel like a game because they’re doing it together.
Also, I would highly recommend watching this read-out of Hurston’s essay ‘How It Feels to Be Coloured Me’ because it is amazing. This is just a small snippet of her brilliance – I would recommend Their Eyes Were Watching God to everyone. It really is a classic for a reason.