"Take no heed of her...She reads a lot of books."
~Jasper Fforde

Monday, May 20, 2013

Their Eyes Were Watching God (Zora Neale Hurston)

Class: African American Literature
Reason for Not Reading: I found the phonetic spelling for the dialogue tedious

Their Eyes Were Watching God tells the story of Janie Crawford, a light-skinned woman of color who refuses to let life's continuous trials and tribulations keep her down, throughout her life with her grandmother and three marriages to vastly different men.  At the heart of this novel is a feminist masterwork of wonder and inspiration.

I started off really excited to read this book.  After all, my professor really pumped it up.  It was supposed to be one of the greatest works of African American literature, perhaps of American literature in general.  And certainly one of the greatest female voices of the twentieth century.  But, I got about three chapters in, and I was just not impressed.  Mostly, I was frustrated, because all the characters spoke in thick dialects which were very difficult to read and actually understand.  So, I put the book aside and relied on class discussion to pass the test.

Reading it again, I found myself falling into the same problems.  And at first, I found it really difficult to connect with the protagonist, Janie Crawford.  I just didn't see the female empowerment aspects of the text.  As I started getting into it more, I found myself having a bit of fun with the book, reluctantly at first, and soon with more and more vim and vigor.  By the end, I was actually rather enjoying myself.  That being said, I still didn't quite see what the big deal was.  I thought it was a good book, but not this GRAND MASTERWORK which everyone else claimed it was.

A few things I liked:   First, I really enjoyed the use of language.  The descriptions are really poetic at times.  Some scenes were quite simply just beautiful to read.  And I really enjoyed them.  And even by the end, I found myself enjoying the phonetic dialogue.  It made the story come alive a bit more, since the characters had an added level of realism to them.  And I even liked the message the book brought to the table, namely that Janie doesn't need to be ruled by anyone (her husbands, her grandmother, the town, etc.); she just needs to find her own path and work toward that.

I think the worst part of this book was simply that I didn't pick up on the great message that everyone always seems to talk about in this book.  I just didn't see it.  And that was disappointing.  I think all the positive reviews, set my expectations a bit high.  But, I mean, they are pretty lofty.  This one from Alice Walker was printed on the front cover of my copy: "There is no book more important to me than this one."  I mean, you have to admit, that is some seriously high praise.  And I just couldn't agree.

Certainly not a bad book.  I gave it a 3 of 5 stars on Goodreads (which means "I liked it"), and I wouldn't mind picking it up again in a few years.  (In some freak twist of fate, I actually have TWO copies of this book....One with the correct pagination for the class, and one with a prettier cover.  So, I guess that means I kinda have to read it again, doesn't it?)

1 comment:

  1. I read this in High School, and I really didn't like it. I own it, but I probably won't read it again any time soon. The dialect bothered me, and I just thought it was kind of a trashy book. I didn't see the whole female empowerment thing either. She just seemed to bounce from one husband to the next.


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