100/365/5: Their Eyes Were Watching God

Next up, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston.

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I chose this book because I took a Buzzfeed quiz called “What novel are you?” and this was my result. True story. No lie. Except that I got this result because Buzzfeed grossly misrepresented this novel. It was much more than they explained in their synopsis. Because of this, I’ve lost all faith in the validity of random Internet quizzes and now can never be sure that I’m just like Hermione Granger or Belle from Beauty and the Beast. Large-scale identity crises are at stake.

As for the book, it was phenomenal. Zora Neale Hurston, like many writers of her day, wrote with sharp wisdom. She spoke of feminism, inequality, and the blurring of racial lines with intricate understanding. Her words were a glimpse into an America struggling with the recovery of civil warfare, and a people finding its place in the new world order.

The main character, Janie, is a strong, independent and strikingly beautiful African American woman coming into her own at a time when race and gender dictated not only her life, but also her very worth. Skin color was heavily weighed when considering one’s value to society. Women were considered subordinate to their male counterparts and stripped of basic rights. Rape and domestic violence were often overlooked…

Wait. When was this written? 1937?! Well shit. Look to my Fahrenheit 451 post to read about how we never learn.

A word of caution: this book is masterfully written in the language of its time, thereby its dialogue is ripe with Ebonics. As with any great author, it takes a minute to find the voice and get it to resonate clearly. But if you’re able to learn the jerky phrasing, I promise you will not be disappointed. It’s truly a beautiful read.

Janie was one of the most honest and real characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. Her internal struggle is as real as any physical presence in the story. She overcomes incredible feats, rising and falling, finding herself along the way. Her identity is built on poverty, then riches, independence, and infatuation with several men. She bows to expectation, but speaks volumes for women in quiet, choice moments where she makes her stand. She looks in the face of death multiple times and comes out victorious, more whole than she was at the start. Hers is the voice that exposes the oppressing, the hateful, the cold-hearted and close-minded.

Janie tells of discrimination and preferential treatment even among the African American community through a woman in the story known as Mrs. Turner. She laments how black communities judged their own neighbors on their ability to be white. Caucasian facial features, lighter shades of brown skin and quietness of conversation were all desirable attributes worthy of status. Janie compares this reasoning to religious practice, saying:

“Once having set up her idols and built altars to them it was inevitable that she would worship there. It was inevitable that she should accept any inconsistency and cruelty from her deity as all good worshippers do from theirs. All gods who receive homage are cruel. All gods dispense suffering without reason. Otherwise they would not be worshipped. Through indiscriminate suffering men know fear and fear is the most divine emotion. It is the stones for altars and the beginning of wisdom. Half gods are worshipped in wine and flowers. Real gods require blood.”

This thinking resonates with those feeling the repercussions of judgmental people and perverted religions. It resonated with me. This book is brave and beautiful and well worth a read. Start slow and give it a chance. You just might learn something.

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