Their Eyes Were Watching God: A Novel

Their Eyes Were Watching God: A Novel

by Zora Neale Hurston
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Their Eyes Were Watching God: A Novel by Zora Neale Hurston

A PBS Great American Read Top 100 Pick

“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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060838676
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 03/19/2013
Series: P.S. Series
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 264
Sales rank: 571
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.59(d)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

Zora Neale Hurston was a novelist, folklorist, and anthropologist. An author of four novels (Jonah’s Gourd Vine, 1934; Their Eyes Were Watching God, 1937; Moses, Man of the Mountain, 1939; and Seraph on the Suwanee, 1948); two books of folklore (Mules and Men, 1935, and Tell My Horse, 1938); an autobiography (Dust Tracks on a Road, 1942); and over fifty short stories, essays, and plays. She attended Howard University, Barnard College and Columbia University, and was a graduate of Barnard College in 1927. She was born on January 7, 1891, in Notasulga, Alabama, and grew up in Eatonville, Florida. She died in Fort Pierce, in 1960.  In 1973, Alice Walker had a headstone placed at her gravesite with this epitaph: “Zora Neale Hurston: A Genius of the South.”


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.

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."

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Foreword xi
Their Eyes Were Watching God 1
Note on Publication History 229

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.

Reading Group Guide

Plot Summary
Under "a blossoming pear tree" in West Florida, sixteen-year-old Janie Mae Crawford dreams of a world that will answer all her questions and waits "for the world to be made." But her grandmother, who has raised her from birth, arranges Janie's marriage to an older local farmer. So begins Janie's journey toward herself and toward the farthest horizon open to her. Zora Neale Hurston's classic 1937 novel follows Janie from her Nanny's plantation shack, to Logan Killicks's farm, to all-black Eatonville, to the Everglades, and back to Eatonville--where she gathers in "the great fish-net" of her life. Janie's joyless marriage to Killicks lasts until Joe Starks passes by, on his way to becoming "a big voice." Joe becomes mayor of Eatonville and is just as determined as Killicks was to keep Janie in her proper place. Through twenty years with Joe, she continues to cope, hope, and dream; and after Joe's death, she is once again "ready for her great journey," a journey she now undertakes with one Vergible Woods, a.k.a. Tea Cake. Younger than Janie, Tea Cake nevertheless engages both her heart and her spirit. With him Janie can finally enjoy life without being one man's mule or another's bauble. Their eventful life together "on de muck" of the Everglades eventually brings Janie to another of her life's turning points; and after burying Tea Cake, she returns to a gossip-filled Eatonville, where she tells her story to her best friend, Pheoby Watson, and releases Pheoby to tell that story to the others. Janie has "done been tuh de horizon and back." She has learned what love is; she has experienced life's joys andsorrows; and she has come home to herself in peace.

Discussion Topics
1. What kind of God are the eyes of Hurston's characters watching? What is the nature of that God and of their watching? Do any of them question God?

2. What is the importance of the concept of horizon? How do Janie and each of her men widen her horizons? What is the significance of the novel's final sentences in this regard?

3. How does Janie's journey--from West Florida, to Eatonville, to the Everglades--represent her, and the novel's increasing immersion in black culture and traditions? What elements of individual action and communal life characterize that immersion?

4. To what extent does Janie acquire her own voice and the ability to shape her own life? How are the two related? Does Janie's telling her story to Pheoby in flashback undermine her ability to tell her story directly in her own voice?

5. What are the differences between the language of the men and that of Janie and the other women? How do the differences in language reflect the two groups' approaches to life, power, relationships, and self-realization? How do the novel's first two paragraphs point to these differences?

6. In what ways does Janie conform to or diverge from the assumptions that underlie the men's attitudes toward women? How would you explain Hurston's depiction of violence toward women? Does the novel substantiate Janie's statement that "Sometimes God gits familiar wid us womenfolks too and talks His inside business"?

7. What is the importance in the novel of the "signifyin'" and "playin' de dozens" on the front porch of Joe's store and elsewhere? What purpose do these stories, traded insults, exaggerations, and boasts have in the lives of these people? How does Janie counter them with her conjuring?

8. Why is adherence to received tradition so important to nearly all the people in Janie's world? How does the community deal with those who are "different"?

9. After Joe Starks's funeral, Janie realizes that "She had been getting ready for her great journey to the horizons in search of people; it was important to all the world that she should find them and they find her." Why is this important "to all the world"? In what ways does Janie's self-awareness depend on her increased awareness of others?

10. How important is Hurston's use of vernacular dialect to our understanding of Janie and the other characters and their way of life? What do speech patterns reveal about the quality of these lives and the nature of these communities? In what ways are "their tongues cocked and loaded, the only real weapon" of these people?

Author Bio: In her award-winning autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road (1942), Zora Neale Hurston claimed to have been born in Eatonville, Florida, in 1901. She was, in fact, born in Notasulga, Alabama, on January 7, 1891, the fifth child of John Hurston (farmer, carpenter, and Baptist preacher) and Lucy Ann Potts (school teacher). The author of numerous books, including Their Eyes Were Watching God, Jonah's Gourd Vine, Mules and Men, and Moses, Man of the Mountain, Hurston had achieved fame and sparked controversy as a novelist, anthropologist, outspoken essayist, lecturer, and theatrical producer during her sixty-nine years. Hurston's finest work of fiction appeared at a time when artistic and political statements--whether single sentences or book-length fictions--were peculiarly conflated. Many works of fiction were informed by purely political motives; political pronouncements frequently appeared in polished literary prose. And Hurston's own political statements, relating to racial issues or addressing national politics, did not ingratiate her with her black male contemporaries. The end result was that Their Eyes Were Watching God went out of print not long after its first appearance and remained out of print for nearly thirty years. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., has been one among many to ask: "How could the recipient of two Guggenheims and the author of four novels, a dozen short stories, two musicals, two books on black mythology, dozens of essays, and a prizewinning autobiography virtually 'disappear' from her readership for three full decades?"

That question remains unanswered. The fact remains that every one of Hurston's books went quickly out of print; and it was only through the determined efforts, in the 1970s, of Alice Walker, Robert Hemenway (Hurston's biographer), Toni Cade Bambara, and other writers and scholars that all of her books are now back in print and that she has taken her rightful place in the pantheon of American authors.

In 1973, Walker, distressed that Hurston's writings had been all but forgotten, found Hurston's grave in the Garden of Heavenly Rest and installed a gravemarker. "After loving and teaching her work for a number of years," Walker later reported, "I could not bear that she did not have a known grave." The gravemarker now bears the words that Walker had inscribed there:


About the Author: In Brief
Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) was a novelist, folklorist, and anthropologist whose fictional and factual accounts of black heritage are unparalleled. She Is the author of many books, including Their Eyes Were Watching God, Dust Tracks on a Road, Tell My Horse, and Mules and Men.

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Their Eyes Were Watching God: A Novel 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 316 reviews.
rb924life More than 1 year ago
My Review This review is about a book called "Their Eyes Were Watching God," by Zora Neale Hurston. If you wanted to now the genre of this book is a Western Romance type. If you like stories about the past in slavery time you will love this book. This book consists of many people since the setting is in the town of Eatonville in Florida. Main characters of the book consist of Janie, Jody Starks, and a young man by the name of Tea Cake. Supporting characters in the story are Nanny Crawford, Johnny Taylor, Pheoby Watson and Dr. Simmons. In more depth Janie is a really complex character in this book. She is beautiful, very intelligent, and powerful. Throughout this whole story she tries to find who and what she really is and fights through all of the obstacles and finds out that she is a powerful black women that doesn't need a man to support her. Another main character in this book is young sweet talking Tea Cake who is Janie's longest lover. Tea Cake plays a huge roll in this story. He teaches Janie many things and plays a crucial role in her development. He is a strong well rounded character with only great morals. This guy is the best guy out of the other two, first husband Logan Killicks and Jody Starks her second husband. In this story the setting is really significant because it is based in Florida a little bit after slavery has been abolished. Because of this there are many African-Americans who are just like Janie and Tea Cake trying to find a home and where they fit in life. The major conflict for the most part is that Janie can not stay with a man for her entire life and trying to figure out ultimately who she is. During the course of this story she is with three different guys. She leaves two of them and something happens to the other that I won't exactly tell what. One thing that is very special about this book is the dialect between characters. Throughout the whole story the characters don't speak proper english, they still have a sense of not being educated when they speak, but it sort of gives the book a good aspect and makes it more realistic. In this book there is a lot of conversations and dialect it's the majority of the book. You don't tend to get inside to the thoughts of characters. The point of view in this book is first person told from Janie's views. I'm a high school baseball player type of guy and I really honestly could say that I was pretty interested in this book. Even though it wouldn't be a book I regularly read. It took me for a ride through the life of Janie from childhood growing up to her late forties. There were thrills and excitement to starting a new town of only colored folks to disappointment and tragedy at the end of the book. All in all it was a thumbs up. A great read!!!!!
FayBellamyPowell More than 1 year ago
I first read "Their Eyes Were Watching God" more than 45 years ago and thought it was a magnificent piece of writing. In August of 2008 I bought the book on CD, read by Ruby Dee, and I must tell you, I was overwhelmed. Ruby makes the characters in this book live. If there was such a thing as Oscars for individuals reading books on tape/CD etc., Ruby would win it, hands down. Her presentation breathes life into each and every character; their voices, male and female, through her interpretation, is absolutely outstanding. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to go on an adventure, because Zora Neale Hurston's main characters were living a life of adventure, of being nomads in America, of taking a chance on life, of walking out on faith. Amd Ruby Dee, through her vocalization, includes you in that adventure. Absolutely wonderful book and Rudy Dee's reading is like icing on the cake. Just amazing.
KATiEJB More than 1 year ago
"Their Eyes Were Watching God" tells the story of a young black womans life. Throughout the book, she encounters many new and unpredictable obstacles that, in the end, she learns made her into a better person and more appreciative of her own life. Through three marriages, Janie learns how beautiful, though sometimes brutal, the world can be. She travels from place to place, seemingly always looking for something better, she wasn't going to settle for just anything. Janie wins the heart of any reader because of her determinaton and strong will.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Zora Neale Hurston¿s amazing novel Their Eyes Were Watching God is a spectacular story of Janie, a young biracial girl living in West Florida, trying to find her place in the world. Throughout the novel the reader is taken on a knowledgeable journey with Janie as she conquers multiple obstacles, while learning to find her voice within herself. Janie experiences numerous obstacles, being lost and then found, waiting for love, wanting love, and finally finding it. The main theme of the novel is Janie¿s quest to find herself amongst the natural hardships and obstacles of life, with others gossiping about her, to finding love, while wasting years of her life, and eventually learning how to be alone. Janie is raised in West Florida and throughout the novel she travels through many cities within Florida. Janie is forced to listen to what others tell her about love, and for many years she lives her life based on what others claim is the right way. Janie gets married twice before finally finding her soul mate, Tea Cake. Tea Cake helped Janie to break out of her sheltered lifestyle and become the intelligent, beautiful, independent woman that was always hiding away deep down. Along her journey to self-enlightenment, Janie gathers significant knowledge of life, of herself, and of love. Language and dialect are two key factors in this novel. 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, ¿They sat with others¿They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God¿(160 Hurston). The whole concept of the book is God¿s almighty power over all living things. Both good and bad. 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 a horrible disease, 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.
snowbird922 More than 1 year ago
The book was very good the broken country english was a bit rough at first but it gave the book its character. I like that Janie realized she had to live for herself and not others. It was an unique vision into what life is really like.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had to choose a novel for my sophmore summer reading along with 'A Raisin In the Sun'. I choose this one thinking it would be horrible but I was very wrong! This is an AMAZING book. Some say it's hard to understand because of the language but it isn't that hard really. After the first chapter you get used to the lingo. I would recommed this book for anyone that wants a good story about love.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was one of the few books that I read for school and actually enjoyed. It is a beautifully written story about the nature of love, and a woman's struggle to define herself. I absolutely love it, and would recommend it, although it is not necessarilly an easy read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The greatest book i have ever read
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Best book I have read this year!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was alright in my eyes. The story line to me was kind of boring and didn't realy catch my attention at all. There was a lot of extra unneeded descriptions and things it seemed to me. The main character Janie is too smart to put up with the things she does, and the book just didn't seem right to me. If you're one though that enjoys reading about that time in age when woman were forced to marry and blacks were looked down upon, then this book is for you.
Guest More than 1 year ago
What is it that allows happiness and freedom to remain within a relationship? In the novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston, Hurston explains through her novel that for freedom and happiness to exist in a relationship there must be love. In her novel she expresses her ideas of love in relationships. There are specific scenes that represent the main character, Janie¿s, first thoughts on love, the strength of her love, and how she sustains the essence of true love through memories. Throughout the novel, Janie goes through many different relationships and discovers many things about herself which in turn help her thoughout her journey as she makes her way through life.
MamaHendo 7 months ago
To start with, the dialect in this book was quiet difficult to get used to. I am a really quick reader but the conversational text forced me slow way down in order to completely understand what was being said. Once I got used to that I found this to be an eye opening tale. Set in the south in 1930s, Janie Crawford, a strong minded young woman, who takes hold of her life as you follow her beginning as a young girl being raised by her grandmother. Janie’s story touches your heart as she endures many traumas along the way to discover her purpose. I only just learned that this was made into a movie which I can’t wait to watch.
HowardG2 More than 1 year ago
Along with Cane, Invisible Man, and Langston Hughes, one of the pinnacles of African-American literature.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The descriptions and dialect are so vivid and rich. You can see every scene on the written page and hear the rhythm of each voice.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I struggled a bit with the passages that were written as if they were spoken by the characters in the vernacular of the time/place, but that also gave the story a more genuine feel. When passages were written in the third person, I found them very lyrical. This was a moving story of a black woman’s life and love in early 20th century America.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Their Eyes Were Watching God was an amazing novel about a strong independent African American women who faces many obstacles on the outside as well as inside herself to discover who she is and who she is meant to be. The novel touches your heart with the story of Janie a women who endures many traumas to discover her purpose. The story is very interesting because it shows how much someone can go through emotionally as well as physically and how well they can shape themselves and not let anything intrude on what they want to achieve such as this main character does. This book is very empowering especially for young African American women like myself who was inspired by this book especially by the realization Ms. Crawford makes when she understands she doesn't need a man to support her life. Also I enjoyed how Janie was a highly uneducated women, by the fact of the authors writing style is different in the text, at a time when slavery had just been abolished and had this wondrous journey of life and you could understand how much her background affected her life but, she overcame that. I had to read this book for school but I would highly recommend it because I enjoyed the whole story and how Mrs. Walkers writing takes your mind on a wonderful and unforgettable journey of a strong women named Janie.
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Octlow More than 1 year ago
The first three paragraphs of this book set the stage and give us a slight insight to what may be at the root of this narrative. In the first paragraph we see the hopes, wishes and dreams of men always being at a distance on ships. These hopes and wishes are always within sight but never seem to be attainable, until ultimately the man resigns and father Time takes his dreams away and laughs at the Watcher. The paragraph ends with the phrase; “That is the life of men.” Immediately in the second paragraph the author begins with “Now, women…” This leads me to believe that there is something coming that differentiates women and men’s dreams, hopes and desires. It states the difference between the genders and their hopes. And then the author makes her statement; “The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.” Women not only dream like men, but more importantly they accept and endear there dream as the path for their life and take actions to fulfill the dream. Men just watch their dreams and wishes at a distance. And finally the third paragraph “So the beginning of this was a woman and she had come back from burying the dead.” I believe the author is saying that this story is one of a woman who had a dream, acted and fulfilled the dream, and now she is returning from not only a lost life to death, but a dream that has died with him. The chapter goes on explaining the reception she receives returning home, her state of being, and returning to a close friend, Pheoby. The woman’s name is Janie Mae Crawford and now she needs a friend for comfort and counsel. “Pheoby, we been kissin’-friends for twenty years, so Ah depend on you for a good thought. And Ah’m talking to you from dat standpoint.” So begins the narrative of Janie’s life as told by Janie to her close and dear friend Pheoby.
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A classic book about a woman finding herself and love.