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Their Eyes Were Watching God: A Novel [Paperback]

Zora N Hurston
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (238 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Nov. 8 2010 0062001701 978-0062001702 Rep Ltd

“A deeply soulful novel that comprehends love and cruelty, and separates the big people from the small of heart, without ever losing sympathy for those unfortunates who don’t know how to live properly.” —Zadie Smith

One of the most important and enduring books of the twentieth century, Their Eyes Were Watching God brings to life a Southern love story with the wit and pathos found only in the writing of Zora Neale Hurston. Out of print for almost thirty years—due largely to initial audiences’ rejection of its strong black female protagonist—Hurston’s classic has since its 1978 reissue become perhaps the most widely read and highly acclaimed novel in the canon of African-American literature.

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At the height of the Harlem Renaissance during the 1930s, Zora Neale Hurston was the preeminent black woman writer in the United States. She was a sometime-collaborator with Langston Hughes and a fierce rival of Richard Wright. Her stories appeared in major magazines, she consulted on Hollywood screenplays, and she penned four novels, an autobiography, countless essays, and two books on black mythology. Yet by the late 1950s, Hurston was living in obscurity, working as a maid in a Florida hotel. She died in 1960 in a Welfare home, was buried in an unmarked grave, and quickly faded from literary consciousness until 1975 when Alice Walker almost single-handedly revived interest in her work.

Of Hurston's fiction, Their Eyes Were Watching God is arguably the best-known and perhaps the most controversial. The novel follows the fortunes of Janie Crawford, a woman living in the black town of Eaton, Florida. Hurston sets up her characters and her locale in the first chapter, which, along with the last, acts as a framing device for the story of Janie's life. Unlike Wright and Ralph Ellison, Hurston does not write explicitly about black people in the context of a white world--a fact that earned her scathing criticism from the social realists--but she doesn't ignore the impact of black-white relations either:

It was the time for sitting on porches beside the road. It was the time to hear things and talk. These sitters had been tongueless, earless, eyeless conveniences all day long. Mules and other brutes had occupied their skins. But now, the sun and the bossman were gone, so the skins felt powerful and human. They became lords of sounds and lesser things. They passed nations through their mouths. They sat in judgment.
One person the citizens of Eaton are inclined to judge is Janie Crawford, who has married three men and been tried for the murder of one of them. Janie feels no compulsion to justify herself to the town, but she does explain herself to her friend, Phoeby, with the implicit understanding that Phoeby can "tell 'em what Ah say if you wants to. Dat's just de same as me 'cause mah tongue is in mah friend's mouf."

Hurston's use of dialect enraged other African American writers such as Wright, who accused her of pandering to white readers by giving them the black stereotypes they expected. Decades later, however, outrage has been replaced by admiration for her depictions of black life, and especially the lives of black women. In Their Eyes Were Watching God Zora Neale Hurston breathes humanity into both her men and women, and allows them to speak in their own voices. --Alix Wilber --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.


'For me, Their eyes were watching God is one of the very greatest American novels of the 20th century. It is so lyrical it should be sentimental; it is so passionate it should be overwrought, but it is instead a rigorous, convincing and dazzling piece of prose, as emotionally satisfying as it is impressive. There is no novel I love more' Zadie Smith --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Their eyes were watching God July 20 2004
A must read for anyone interested in the black experience.
Hurston's novel is a very interesting portrayal of the life of
black people in the fictional black town of Eatonville. Set in
the early 1900's Hurston is able to convey through a handful of
characters the vernacular, and thinking of black folk in the
early American south. The Language may require some getting use
to but it is well worth it. The novel incorporates a myriad of
oral performances- personal narratives, folktales, and sermons-
and charts the comming to womanhood of protagonist Janie Starks.
The novel is not for those who demand sex or high drama,instead
it is a video of words that depict the entirety of the basic
concerns of black folk in a new town of their own. There are ex-
amples of black men that lived from"hand to mouth" everyday who
casually gather around Janie's general store to "cut the fool"
and talk of the subtle foolishness in their lives, and there is
Joe Starks the talented negro with his plan to go to Eatonville
with 300.00, his new bride ,and make a name for himself.The wo-
men of the town tend their poorches every evening and anyone's
business they can. Janie was married to an older man(Mr. Logan
Killicks) through her grandmother when she was about 16, Mr Kil-
licks could never satisfy the desires of his ambitious maidens
heart,therefore Janie runs away with the dynamic,most ambitious
Joe Starks who promises her everything except the loving she de-
sires.At first Janie imagines this is the relationship she has
dreamed of until Joe's male chauvinistic beliefs begin to
stifle her ambitions.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An outstanding story Feb. 23 2005
Their Eyes Were Watching God was one of the best books that I've ever read. The book answered a lot of questions about life. We are faced with several conflicts in humanity with choices having to be made between Love, Good, Evil, Hope or reality, and Truth. It is a story about Janie, a young black woman, who tries to find herself through her grandmother's footsteps and eventually confronts herself to become the person she knows is of her own good. Taken along the memory lane in a small southern black town, "Their Eyes were Watching God" is a beautiful portrayal of the conflicts confronting Janie, not only about herself but also about how her society perceives her. Through an amazing creativity in characters, plot development, excellent narrative, lessons and dialogues and an easy ride through time, Zora successful made the reader to understand and appreciate black culture. This absolutely credible story is a highly recommended book to anyone with a taste for classic stories. THE USURPER AND OTHER STORIES,DISCIPLES OF FORTUNE,THE GREAT GATSBY, UNCLE TOM'S CABIN are other fascinating and insightful stories
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5.0 out of 5 stars A GREAT CLASSIC!!! June 29 2006
"Where's dat blue satin dress she left here in? Where all dat money her husband took and died and left here? What dat ole forty year ole `oman doing wid her hair swingin' down her back lak some young gal?"

I know nothing of Zora Neale Hurston except that she wrote a great classic in Their Eyes Were Watching God sometime in the nineteen thirties.

The book makes its focal point around Janie Crawford, the envy of all other black sisters because of her light skin and her below the waist long hair. A strong and independent Afro-American woman, Janie knows what she wants out of life and leaves her town of Eatonville searching for it; finding herself at the altar on three occasions.

Forced more or less into the first marriage with Logan which did not last longer than a snowball in hell, Janie does her best to be a good wife, but at this stage she is still young and does not understand what is required of her in this unity which is on the verge of breaking down. As this happens, she quickly hooks up with the sweet talking Joe Starks, a man whom she looks up to and who will become the mayor of the small county where they live. Life with Joe Starks is different to the marriage with Logan as all the folks respect Starks who is responsible, thoroughly arrogant, stubborn and forces his opinions and standards on Janie, like it or not.

But a reprieve comes in Janie Crawford's life after the death of the Mayor, which finds her grown into maturity and with a better comprehension of the world around her, and a better understanding of her desires and how she may acquire this love which has eluded her all these years.
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4.0 out of 5 stars God is with us July 6 2004
Sometimes it takes forty years of life, many tragedys and three marriages
before we finally get it right.
Janie got it right towards the end. Zora Neale Hurston was ahead of her time ... writing about a black female hero, a woman who had opinions, a woman who didn't accept tradition, a woman after my own heart.
Janie is a black woman with attitude.
"What does he mean I can't do that, do I not have a mind, an opinion, a soul?"
Janie is black, not the color to be in the 30s, 40s, 50s, even now, sometimes....but she endures, lives, loves.
Tea Cake is her shining star; the younger man, the one most likely to leave her, since she's a forty year old has-been...but
he is her beautiful prince, her young Lolita, her life.
Janie is a survivor, a woman we all want to be like, a believer in the human experience, a woman...(Watch me Roar!)
"Their Eyes Were Watching God" is about a woman outliving heartache, humiliation and death...
She is still living...
inside every woman who believes life can be caught in mid-air, sucked up, absorbed, and changed
if one so desires...
How about you?
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent!! Item as described, quick shipping, recommended, thank you!
Excellent!! Item as described, quick shipping, recommended, thank you!
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3.0 out of 5 stars Starts off dull but picks up
When I started reading it, I didn't enjoy it too much but it wasn't to the point that I wanted to put it down. Read more
Published on March 7 2011 by Manley H
5.0 out of 5 stars Their Eyes Were Watching God
I have read this book half a dozen times and made the decision to own it. Every time I read it I find something new. Zora's writing style, imagery and prose have no equal. Read more
Published on Aug. 18 2010 by Adela R de Beer
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Through Pain and Loss comes this exceptional piece of literature, that though a classic within itself can be read many times over and find something new to capture your attention. Read more
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5.0 out of 5 stars It doesn't get any better than this
This isn't a book--it is poetry and I mean that in the best sense--not to turn people off. The writing is beautiful, flowing like a rippling stream over stones. Read more
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Criticized for not writing a protest novel by some of her fellow African-American writers of the time, Zora instead wrote one of the most poetic novels ever written in the United... Read more
Published on July 17 2004 by Dolan Buckley
3.0 out of 5 stars Their Eyes Were Watching God
I was required to read this book in class. Although many of my peers disliked it, I found Their Eyes Were Watching God to be an interesting book. Read more
Published on June 19 2004 by "kelbel288"
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't read this book . . . LISTEN to it!
I agree with every high school student who was forced to read the book and hated it, but the story came alive in the audio version. Read more
Published on June 16 2004 by Mike Dowling
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