Their Eyes Were Watching God
by Zora Neale Hurston
Their Eyes Were Watching God begins with our eyes fixed on a woman who returns from burying the dead. Written in only seven weeks while on a Guggenheim Fellowship in Haiti, Zora Neale Hurston's novel chronicles the journey of Janie Mae Crawford from her grandmother's plantation shack to Logan Killicks' farm, to all-black Eatonville, to the Evergladesuntil a tragedy brings her back to Eatonville. From this vantage point, Janie narrates her life story to her best friend, Pheoby Watson, satisfying the “oldest human longingself-revelation.”
Forced to marry for money at 16, Janie at first believes that love automatically comes with marriage. Unable to endure her mule-like servitude and the desecration of her dreams, she spontaneously leaves Killicks for Joe Starks, a handsome, ambitious man determined to put her on a pedestal once he becomes mayor of Eatonville. After enduring a mostly joyless 20-year marriage to him, Janie finally meets a young, uneducated wastrel named Tea Cake. With him she thinks she can find genuine love for the first time, but fate intervenes, and Janie fears she may have to choose between his safety and her own.
Although the novel is not an autobiography, Hurston once reflected that it is, at heart, a love story, inspired by “the real love affair of [her] life.” Another important incident in her life is fictionalized in the novel: In 1929, Hurston survived a five-day hurricane in the Bahamas, and got herself and another family out of a house moments before it began to collapse.
Hurston's conviction that black culture is valuable, unique, and worthy of preservation comes through in Their Eyes Were Watching God via its harmonious blend of folklore and use of black idiom. Through Janie Mae Crawford, Hurston rejects 19th- and early 20th-century stereotypes for women and creates a protagonist whothough silenced for most of her lifeultimately finds her own voice.