Their Eyes were Watching God; God’s Eyes were Closed.

I haven’t read this book in a long time but that being said, I still know the plot by heart because THIS BOOK was the book that everyone HAD to read in high school; it was on every “optional” reading list, and more than that, every single girl I knew in high school picked this book to read because it was short(ish) and for some reason the title was poetic and romantic enough that any girl who had blood to bleed through her over-big heart snatched this book up.

Anyhow; another point: sorry it’s taken me forever to blog. I’ve been busy. And anxious. More on that to follow in a different blog post.

Their Eyes were Watching God is the narrative of the life of a very bright and beautiful character; Janie Crawford, as in a rich Southern fashion she sits on her porch and tells the neighbor the story of her life; with a candid honesty and simplicity that we just don’t see in narrative anymore. Everyone thinks they have secrets to hide; but maybe what you survive will actually make people respect you, rather than mock you.

Janie has lived her whole life under the direction of other people. Even the women in her life tell her what to do; Janie’s story opens with how her elderly grandmother, worried that Janie won’t have anyone to take care of her, marries her off at the cusp of her fragile adulthood to a crusty old man; based not on the premise of compatibility but on simple economics. What single black woman could make enough money to earn her own keep, outside of unsavory occupations? Of course; the marriage, while stable, is dry. Janie; with her head still full of dreams and possibilities for her still-young life, is a rose ready to be plucked, and who better to pluck it than the smooth talking Jody?

Jody is the guy at the bar with all the pick-up lines. He tells you that he’s going to finish his degree next year; and that by the time he’s 28 he wants to own a house. He knows what he wants in life, and he knows that you’re the type of woman who will help him get it. You are not the target in love; that he shoots his suave arrows at; you are the arrow that he plunges into the straw barrel of his future accomplishments. He’s the type of guy your mother warned you about; that you jump into the back of a car with to spite your strict father.

So of course, instead of being freed from her dry marriage, Janie just finds herself bullied into another one. Her freedom stifled once again by the people around her who assert their so-claimed right to control her life. But thankfully; fate intervenes. Janie is tossed into the warm and loving arms of the aptly named Tea Cake. How beautiful, how refreshing to spend a lifetime looking for love, to have found it at last! And yet; their dream was short-lived. With dramatic Romeo and Juliet-esque flair, we see the end of the love story in a murmur of dirty water and foaming spit. But arguably readers see this end from the beginning; when we must note that in telling her story to her gossipy neighbors, dear Janie is alone.

Their Eyes Were Watching God is a story about finding the space in between things in which one can flourish. Janie is beautiful; she has long straight hair down to her hips, and far into her forties she is still considered beautiful. She has light skin, which sets her apart from her black neighbors, but at the same time she is still not white. She haunts the cloudy regions of social and psychological roles in beautiful shades of gray. From her grandmother’s strict views of marriage as being a contract of convenience and security, to Janie’s deep-rooted beliefs in marriage for love alone, and the gradual shift from her being utterly dependent on other people to finally finding her own ground to stand on. Even the title, taken from the following quote:

“They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God.”

during the hurricane section of the novel; hints at a sort of separation in which Janie subsists; that between the earth and heaven; in which nature has destroyed the everglades and caused Tea Cake to contract rabies, and that above; there is an indifferent and cold God. She, unhurt by the hurricane, sends her appeals heavenward, but only silence returns to her. She is neither of earth nor of heaven, neither black or white. The bee that she admires so deeply is both sweet, in making honey, and sour, in its ability to sting. Even her hair goes down to her hips; the location of which is physically about halfway down our bodies. While she finds herself and her independence from the rule of husbands she’s married; when she returns home the entire town gossips about her and judges her for flying in the face of social expectations. We can see the grand arc of Janie going from one extreme; being under the total control of her grandmother and first husband, to the other, in which she returns to her hometown by herself in absolute independence. The entire novel is about the time in the middle; when she discovers that if she only looks to God above or to husband below without trying to help herself, nothing will save her. Salvation comes from within friends; be careful when you are watching God, lest you miss what walks right in front of you.

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About Angela

Editor, bookbinder, and writer.

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