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Their Eyes Were Watching God

Their Eyes Were Watching God

4.2 109
by Zora Neale Hurston

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This novel about a proud, independent black woman was first published in 1937 and generally dismissed by reviewers. It was out of print for nearly 30 years when the University of Illinois Press reissued it in 1978, at which time it was instantly embraced by the literary establishment as one of the greatest works in the canon of African-American fiction.



This novel about a proud, independent black woman was first published in 1937 and generally dismissed by reviewers. It was out of print for nearly 30 years when the University of Illinois Press reissued it in 1978, at which time it was instantly embraced by the literary establishment as one of the greatest works in the canon of African-American fiction.

Mesmerizing in its immediacy and haunting in its subtlety, Their Eyes Were Watching God tells the story of Janie Crawford—fair-skinned, long-haired, dreamy woman—who comes of age expecting better treatment than what she gets from her three husbands and community. Then she meets Tea Cake, a younger man who captivates Janie's heart and spirit, and offers her the chance to relish life without being one man's mule or another man's adornment.

Editorial Reviews

Saturday Review
A classic of black literature, Their Eyes Were Watching God belongs in the same category — with that of William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway — of enduring American literature.
Dee is marvelous in all roles in this stage-worthy performance.
Heard Word
. . . thanks to this audiobook, Zora's characters speak to us - through the wonderful voice of Ruby Dee.
Sacred Fire
In Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston draws a sharp portrait of a proud, independent black woman looking for her own identity and resolving not to live lost in sorrow, bitterness, fear, or romantic dreams. Like most lives of black women of the early 20th century (or any time for that matter), Janie Crawford's life, told here in her own sure voice, is not without its frustrations, terrors, and tragedies — in fact, it is full of them. But the power of her story comes from her life-affirming attitude: Through all the changes she goes through — once divorced, twice widowed (once by her own gun-wielding hand)-she kept a death-grip commitment to live on her own terms, relying only on her own guts, creativity, strength, and passion, and the power she drew from her community, to pull her through. In Janie, Hurston created a character that reflected her own strong belief that the most important mission we have is to discover ourselves.

Janie Crawford was raised in the household of her grandmother, Nanny Crawford, a maid and a former slave. Janie, like her mother before her, was born of rape, and Nanny is committed to protecting her from the sexual and racial violence she and her daughter endured. She pushes Janie into marriage with an older man named Logan Killicks, a farmer with some property. Her life with Killicks is full of boredom and hard labor, so she runs off with Joe Starks, a handsome and well-off storekeeper who moves her to the all-black town of Eatonville, Florida. Even with the prestige and security this new marriage brings, she is bored and unfulfilled by her stunted life with Starks. When Starks dies, Janie begins to live with Tea Cake Woods, a man who cannot provide her with the stability that her Nanny taught her to value, but who finally gives her the passion and satisfaction she'd been looking for all along. Even when further tragedy greets her, she maintains a staunchly positive view of the future.

Hurston, an anthropologist and folklorist, fills this novel with shotgun rhythms and the poetic language of her native south. Language in this novel is crucial; it is through the beautiful self- made idiosyncrasies of southern speech and storytelling that Janie expresses her own will toward self-definition. Their Eyes Were Watching God has been called the first African American feminist novel because of its portrayal of a strong black woman rebelling against society's restrictions — and the received wisdom of her Nanny, no less — to seek out her own destiny. But ultimately, this is not a novel that looks out to the world to make political protest or social commentary; it concerns itself with describing the power that lies within us to define ourselves and our lives as we see fit, unbound and unfettered by society's limitations and prejudices. As Alice Walker once wrote, "There is enough self-love in that one book — love of community, culture, traditions — to restore a world."

Library Journal
★ 08/01/2014
This beloved 20th-century novel is expertly narrated by Ruby Dee, who sets a deliberate pace and does a wonderful job distinguishing among the characters.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.

Now, women forget all those things they don't want to remember, and remember everything they don't want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.

So the beginning of this was a woman and she had come back from burying the dead. Not the dead of sick and ailing with friends at the pillow and the feet. She had come back from the sodden and the bloated; the sudden dead, their eyes flung wide open in judgment.

The people all saw her come because it was sundown. The sun was gone, but he had left his footprints in the sky. 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.

Seeing the woman as she was made them remember the envy they had stored up from other times. So they chewed up the back parts of their minds and swallowed with relish. They made burning statements with questions, and killing tools out of laughs. It was mass cruelty. A mood come alive, Words walking without masters; walking altogether like harmony in a song.

"What shedoin coming back here in dem overhalls? Can't she find no dress to put on? — Where's dat blue satin dress she left here in? — Where all dat money her husband took and died and left her? — What dat ole forty year ole 'oman doin' wid her hair swingin' down her back lak some young gal? Where she left dat young lad of a boy she went off here wid? — Thought she was going to marry? — Where he left her? — What he done wid all her money? — Betcha he off wid some gal so young she ain't even got no hairs — why she don't stay in her class?"

When she got to where they were she turned her face on the bander log and spoke. They scrambled a noisy "good evenin'" and left their mouths setting open and their ears full of hope. Her speech was pleasant enough, but she kept walking straight on to her gate. The porch couldn't talk for looking.

The men noticed her firm buttocks like she had grape fruits in her hip pockets; the great rope of black hair swinging to her waist and unraveling in the wind like a plume; then her pugnacious breasts trying to b ore holes in her shirt. They, the men, were saving with the mind what they lost with the eye. The women took the faded shirt and muddy overalls and laid them away for remembrance. It was a weapon against her strength and if it turned out of no significance, still it was a hope that she might fall to their level some day.

But nobody moved, nobody spoke, nobody even thought to swallow spit until after her gate slammed behind her.

Pearl Stone opened her mouth and laughed real hard because she didn't know what else to do. She fell all over Mrs. Sumpkins while she laughed. Mrs. Sumpkins snorted violently and sucked her teeth.

"Humph! Y'all let her worry yuh. You ain't like me. Ah ain't got her to study 'bout. If she ain't got manners enough to stop and let folks know how she been malkin' out, let her g'wan! "

"She ain't even worth talkin' after," Lulu Moss drawled through her nose. "She sits high, but she looks low. Dat's what Ah say 'bout dese ole women runnin' after young boys."

Pheoby Watson hitched her rocking chair forward before she spoke. "Well, nobody don't know if it's anything to tell or not. Me, Ah'm her best friend, and Ah don't know."

"Maybe us don't know into things lak, you do, but we all know how she went 'way from here and us sho seen her come back. 'Tain't no use in your tryin' to cloak no ole woman lak Janie Starks, Pheoby, friend or no friend."

"At dat she ain't so ole as some of y'all dat's talking."

"She's way past forty to my knowledge, Pheoby."

"No more'n forty at de outside."

"She's 'way too old for a boy like Tea Cake."

"Tea Cake ain't been no boy for some time. He's round thirty his ownself."

"Don't keer what it was, she could stop and say a few words with us. She act like we done done something to her," Pearl Stone complained. "She de one been doin' wrong."

"You mean, you mad 'cause she didn't stop and tell us all her business; Anyhow, what you ever know her to do so bad as y'all make out? The worst thing Ah ever knowedher to do was taking a few years offa her age and dat ain't never harmed nobody. Y'all makes me tired. De way you talkin' you'd think de folks in dis town didn't do nothin' in de bed 'cept praise de Lawd. You have to 'scuse me, 'cause Ah'm bound to go take her some supper." Pheoby stood up sharply.

"Don't mind us," Lulu smiled, "just go right ahead, us can mind yo' house for you till you git back. Mah supper is done. You bettah go see how she feel. You kin let de rest of us know."

What People are Saying About This

June Jordon
The prototypical black novel of affirmation; it is the most successful, convincing, and exemplary novel of black love that we have. Period.
Alice Walker
There is no book more important to me than this one.

Meet the Author

Zora Neale Hurston, the author of Their Eyes Were Watching God, was deemed "one of the greatest writers of our time" by Toni Morrison. With the publication of Lies and Other Tall Tales, The Skull Talks Back, and What's the Hurry, Fox? new generations will be introduced to Hurston's legacy. She was born in Notasulga, Alabama, in 1891, and died in 1960.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
January 7, 1891
Date of Death:
January 28, 1960
Place of Birth:
Eatonville, Florida
Place of Death:
Fort Pierce, Florida
B.A., Barnard College, 1928 (the school's first black graduate). Went on to study anthropology at Columbia University.

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Their Eyes Were Watching God (SparkNotes Literature Guide Series) 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 109 reviews.
Talysia More than 1 year ago
This is one of the most memorable books I think I've read so far. I was only around the age of 13 when my sister lended me the book, and 2 years later I'm still able to look back at the characters and the way it touched me.Some parts of the book were very challenging especially for my intellect at the time, but I would still reccomend this book to anyone who wants to learn about things in the past. I read it once and I'm looking forward to reading it again...
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ships at a distances has every man wishing aboard. What a fantastic way to use imagery! Words that have stuck out in my mind for about 5 years. This book has many themes that people of all races can relate to.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I would just like to say this is one of the worst books i have every read;however i have to continue reading untill i'm completely finsihed because this book is for my english class. my advice is to stay away from this book. DEFINETY NOT A EASY READ!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the most god awful book I've ever read. The submissiveness of Janie is disgusting, it is impossible for her to stand on her own two feet. This book is pointless, and it's only plot is a woman who keeps finding other men to run to after her marriages crumble as an escape route from her current town
Guest More than 1 year ago
Their Eyes.....was the best novel that I've read throughout highschool. I like the way Zora symbotically describes love and men throughout the novel to the ways of nature.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston, tells the story of Janie, a young black woman who is longing to find out who she is and gain her independence from the typical stereotype of women needing a man to protect them. At a more in depth view it’s easy to notice how complex of a character Janie is: she’s beautiful, powerful and very intelligent. This book has an array of main and supporting characters due to the changing locations; Tea Cake, Janie’s longest lasting relationship, is one of the main characters who plays a large role in Janie’s life. Tea Cake helps Janie realize who she is, and what she is capable of accomplishing; he is a strong, well-rounded character who has great moral development. The other main character is Jody Starks; although he makes his appearance before Tea Cake he plays no role in any of Janie’s character development. Out of Janie’s three husbands Tea Cake was the best, but her other two husbands were Jody Starks and Logan Killicks.  The setting of this story is really significant because it is based in Florida a little while after slavery had been abolished. Because of this there are several other characters that resemble Janie and her husband Tea Cake, all searching for a home and a place they can fit in to live their life. The dialect between the characters plays another large role in the book; throughout the entire story the characters don’t speak proper English, almost as if they weren’t educated, but it gives the book a sense of realism. As the story progresses, Janie becomes more outspoken and is able to express herself with assurance. The major turning point and the connection of the book’s title comes from when Janie, Tea Cake, and others are faced with a horrible hurricane. This part of the novel shows a significant theme of humans against God. During the hurricane there is a point where they are all helpless and no longer know what it is they should do. The whole concept of the book is God’s almighty power over all living things. God helps guide the people in the novel, especially Janie, on a path to self-betterment, knowledge, self-worth, and where their place is in the world. God must also assert hardships and allows Janie to fight against others’ perceptions, battle within herself and her thoughts, and eventually learn from all her experiences in order to become strong and independent. In the end, Janie has grown and overcome an amazing amount of barriers.  To many, the ending of the novel may seem quite sad and melancholy, but it is actually the best part of the novel. Janie loses Tea Cake to rabies from an infected dog during the hurricane, but in that we have seen that she is capable of being on her own and has finally found her place in the world. She learned of her strengths and is self-assured with her life; Janie has sacrificed all she needed to finally be able to understand the true meaning of life, God, and herself.  I recommend this book to anyone who just wants a good book to read; although some might be hesitant to read a book that has been called something along the lines of being not “serious fiction” and “ carries no theme, no message, no thought.” 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
UGH! I remember reading this in High School! It was AWFUL! My English teacher even hated it! She just read it because it was part of the curriculum. Don't read this! Janie is just an idiot looking for a guy to "love". I don't want to spoil part of the end, but it was dumb and her fault. Just saying. It's true
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Be sure to note that this is an abridged version of the text and not the complete work.
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