“Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

You’d think that, since I’m the Director of Alamance County Public Libraries, that I would have all the time in the world to do nothing but read. I have a world of books at my fingertips. Unfortunately that just isn’t the case. To take advantage of every spare minute I do have to dedicate to reading, I often listen to books on CD or on playaways in the car as I travel to and from a plethora of meetings. It’s a good way to catch up on literature that I haven’t read in a long time, or somehow or another missed during my formal education. Recently I had the opportunity to listen to Ruby Dee narrate Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston. I had heard so many wonderful things about this book, that I didn’t see how it could possibly measure up to everything I had heard. Boy was I wrong! Ms. Hurston’s use of language paints vivid pictures that bring to life the story of Janie and her struggles, both as woman of color in a world of white people and as a woman in a man’s world. I found myself drawn to Janie’s fight to maintain her personhood and independence in a world in which women were second class citizens. Ms. Hurston captures the culture of central and southern Florida of the early 1900s, leaving you with the feeling that you can feel the humidity, smell the heat of the earth and hear the sounds of the community. After running away from the husband chosen for her by her grandmother, Janie settles in Eatonville with Joe Starks, who has ambitions of making the community a great town, with Janie leading the way for high society. He belittles her when she interacts with the locals that shop at their store and more and more treats her as if she merely a piece of property. When Joe dies, leaving Janie financially secure, she meets a man she calls Tea-Cake, with whom she eventually falls in love. Theirs is not an easy relationship, as Janie struggles to maintain her sense of personhood. While the pair are working in the Everglades, the great Okeechobee Hurricane hits, creating a stunning situation for Janie and Tea-Cake. Ms. Hurston’s words describing the storm left me breathless and in no doubt of her superiority as a writer. Ms. Hurston’s rich descriptions of Janie and southern Florida, along with Ruby Dee’s velvet voice left me with a story and words that continue to haunt me with their beauty.

MJ Wilkerson is the Library Director of the Alamance County Public Libraries.  She can be reached at 336-513-4753 or mwilkerson@alamancelibraries.org.