Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Tessa Bright Wildsmith

In honor of Black History Month, I thought I’d review “Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston.

I have mixed feelings about this book. I loved it and hated it at the same time. Let me explain.

I thought the story was captivating and intriguing. The characters were vivid and emotional and interesting. However, it was laborious to read. It is written in the Southern, uneducated dialect of African-Americans in the early 1930s. The dialect made it incredibly difficult to get through.

Janie Crawford is independent. She sets out with an ambitious goal for a black woman in the 1930s - to be her own person, her own woman. This novel follows Janie as she travels from one town to the next along life’s journey and back to where she came from. We travel along with Janie as she finds love, heartache, desperation, joy and peace.

I loved the story, and I loved Janie. She was strong and fierce and smart - she had so many wonderful qualities.

Overall, I didn’t like this book though. The effort that had to be put into understanding the language took away from the goodness of the story. For example “…Y’all let her worry yuh. You ain’t lak 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 makin’ out, let her g’wan!”

Maybe it comes from years of grammar and spelling being drilled into my head, but this is hard reading. It doesn’t flow, and it makes reading so much more difficult than it should be.

The book was written in 1937, and I’m sure it is true to the dialect, but it took a lot away from the book for me. It is such a beautiful story of self-discovery and courage, I was disappointed to be left with a feeling of relief when I turned the last page. Generally when I finish a book that has such an amazing story, I’m left feeling fulfilled and thoughtful. When I turned the last page of this book, I felt tired and glad it was over.

I do feel distressed that I didn’t like this book any more than I did. It has been raved about as the finest black fiction of its time and one of the finest of all time. I understand why such claims are made. Personally though, I would never recommend this book to anyone. It was a beautiful, touching story overwhelmed by being written in the true dialect of its time.

Have you read “Their Eyes Were Watching God?” Discuss your thoughts on the book below.

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