First published in 1937, Their Eyes Were Watching God was out of print for almost thirty years—due largely to the initial audiences’ rejection of its strong black female protagonist. It was reissued in 1978 and has since become one of the most widely read and critically acclaimed works of African American literature.
Their Eyes Were Watching God tells the story of Janie Starks, fair-skinned, long-legged, independent, and articulate, who sets out to be her own person—no easy feat for a black woman in the ‘30s. After three marriages, she journeys back to her roots, where her small southern black community buzzes with gossip about the outcome of her affair with a younger drifter known as “Tea Cake.”
Hurston’s writing was magical in parts. Her description of the hurricane Janie and Tea Cake experienced was exceptional. I don’t think I’ve ever read such a vivid scene. The heavy dialect used in the dialogue was distracting, though, and in this case, I didn’t like the audio version despite the talent of the narrator. The book was enlightening on so many levels.
Zora Neale Hurston was a natural born storyteller, and she packed a lot into 238 pages. It’s sad she passed away before her writing was given the credit it was due. 4.5 stars.
Her personality and audacity were very much like Janie’s. You can read about her here.
** Although the book is categorized as 890 on the Lexile scale (5th grade level), I think it’s more appropriate for teens and adults.