Exeter, Devon UK • Apr 18, 2024 • VOL XII

Exeter, Devon UK • [date-today] • VOL XII
Home Amplify Book Recommendation – ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ by Zora Neale Hurston

Book Recommendation – ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ by Zora Neale Hurston

Austin Taylor reviews and recommends Zora Neale Hurston's famous novel Their Eyes Were Watching God.
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Book Recommendation – ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ by Zora Neale Hurston

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Austin Taylor reviews and recommends Zora Neale Hurston’s famous novel Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Zora Neale Hurston is arguably one of the most interesting Black American authors of the 20th Century. At 26 years-old, Hurston pretended to be a 16-year-old girl in order to finish high school, before eventually going on to study anthropology at Columbia University. She later went on to conduct extensive anthropological research into the lives of Black people in the Caribbean and the American South (where she worked with such celebrated figures as Alan Lomax). Whilst in Haiti, Hurston wrote her best known work in just seven weeks: Their Eyes Were Watching God– now considered a classic of 20th century American literature. She was the daughter of a sharecropper and the granddaughter of slaves.

“Whilst the plot is situated within the legacy of the slaving South, Hurston’s novel is primarily concerned with divisions within the black community; especially gender identities and feminism, being written within the milieu of post-first-wave feminist America.”

Their Eyes Were Watching God is essentially a bildungsroman exploring the main character Janie’s realisation of her identity and independence as a black woman in the American South. Whilst the plot is situated within the legacy of the slaving South, Hurston’s novel is primarily concerned with divisions within the black community; especially gender identities and feminism, being written within the milieu of post-first-wave feminist America. The story is beautifully told using lyrical Southern black dialects, and Hurston frames the plot as a flashback to demonstrate how Janie — the now fully realised ‘liberated woman’ — has come to a point of self-realisation over the course of three marriages to wildly different men. Indeed, the blossoming and eventual realisation of Janie’s sexuality and sexual identity is explored via beautiful (metaphoric) imagery over the course of the story and is starkly contrasted to the racially enforced sexual abuse that her mother and grandmother faced. Janie’s ability to tell her story as a flashback — her narrative unconstrained by others – is, of course, the ultimate symbol of her liberation as a woman. Their Eyes Were Watching God is, as such, a novel ultimately focused on the struggles of black women- who are described in it as the “mule uh de world”.

“Janie’s ability to tell her story as a flashback — her narrative unconstrained by others – is, of course, the ultimate symbol of her liberation as a woman.”

Their Eyes Were Watching God is an incredibly readable, interesting and often funny book and is fascinating for its value both as an African-American and a feminist novel. It is generally considered one of the great novels of the 20th century and I would definitely recommend that you seek it out.

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