When I first attempted to read, Zora Neale Hurston’s, There Eyes Were Watching God, many years ago, I have to admit I just couldn’t get through it. The dialect of broken English was just a little too much. Some years passed and I don’t remember why, but I picked it up again. I’m glad I did.
For those of you not familiar with it, this is the story of Janie Crawford, the granddaughter of a former slave who rejects the notion of marrying simply to establish a solid home and financial stability. During a time when this was much more than someone of her stature could hope for this was no light matter.
Her grandmother, who she calls Nanny, became pregnant by her slave owner and fears that her granddaughter will become “a mule” by some man if she doesn’t quickly get her married. She arranges for her to marry Logan Killicks because he will provide the status and financial security she feels her granddaugghter needs; love is neither necessary nor relevant. Nanny’s destiny was chosen for her, she wants better for her granddaughter. Janie has higher hopes. She longs for true love and can’t imagine settling for anything less.
She eventually finds it in Vergible Woods, better known as Teacake. He is a good looking stranger who enraptures her with his guitar playing and free spirit. He seems to be from nowhere and everywhere.
She is in her forties when her second husband a prominent man in an all-black town in Southern Florida, dies. Despite their age difference and his lack of any type of status, she runs off with Teacake and marries him despite the whispers and gasps of the town folk. Janie narrates the story, which is a reflective one.
Their Eyes Were watching God, taps into the human spirit and the quest in all of us to find that one that makes us have to remind ourselves to breath.
Hurston dared to write such a novel during a time when women and especially Black women wouldn’t think to flaunt their dissatisfaction with traditional roles so publically and unabashedly. She does it uniquely, tastefully and in a way that transcends time, race or culture.
This is the story of Pecola Breedlove; the girl is as black as night and equally as ugly– at least in the eyes of others and thereafter, in her own eyes. Taking on the role she believes society has given her, a role subservient to her white counterparts, she desires to be a white girl with blue eyes. For her this seems to be the sought-after standard of beauty.
The story is told mainly from the point of view of Claudia, whose family has taken in Pecola because of issues she’s having with her family, namely her incestuous relationship with her father. Claudia is proud of her blackness and indignant at Pecola’s desire to be something other than Black.
Although issues of racism and sexuality and self-worth are thematic throughout, Morrison has a way of weaving them into a well-told story.
Take some time to check out both books. And if you have already, they are certainly worth a second look.