Their Eyes Were Watching God. Zora Neale Hurston. (NY: HarperCollins, [2000 reprint]). 231 pages.
My first exposure to Zora Neale Hurston’s writing was her book Dust Tracks On A Road which I read as part of a PhD course on self-referential anthropology. I immediately fell in love with the unique and vivid way that Hurston uses language.
So along the way I acquired two more of Hurston’s books, Mules and Men and Their Eyes Were Watching God, neither of which I ever got around to reading. Maggie’s Southern Reading Challenge was just the prompting I needed to move Their Eyes Were Watching God to the top of my “books-to-be-read” stack.
I loved the book and highly recommend it to you. If you already own it, move it to the top of your “books-to-be-read” stack. If you don’t own it I recommend that you check it out of your local public library or spend the $10 to purchase it.
I share below some quotes from the book:
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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. (page 1)
* * *
“You know if you pass some people and don’t speak tuh suit ’em dey got tuh go way back in yo’ life and see whut you ever done. They know mo’ ’bout yuh than you do yo’ self. An envious heart makes a treacherous ear. They done ‘heard’ ’bout you just what they hope done happened.”
“If God don’t think no mo’ ’bout ’em then Ah do, they’s a lost ball in de high grass.”
“Ah hears what they say ’cause they just will collect round mah porch ’cause it’s on de big road. Mah husband git so sick of ’em sometime he makes ’em all git for home.”
“Sam is right too. They just wearin’ out yo’ sittin’ chairs.”
“Yeah, Sam say most of ’em goes to church so they’ll be sure to rise in Judgment. Dat’s de day dat every secret is s’posed to be made known. They wants to be there and hear it all.”
“Sam is too crazy! You can’t stop laughin’ when youse around him.”
“Uuh hunh. He says he aims to be there hisself so he can find out who stole his corn-cob pipe.” (pages 6-7)
* * *
They sat there in the fresh young darkness close together. Pheoby eager to feel and do through Janie, but hating to show her zest for fear it might be thought mere curiosity, Janie full of that oldest human longing–self-revelation. (page 8 )
* * *
The wife of the Mayor was not just another woman as she had supposed. She slept with authority and so she was part of it in the town mind. She couldn’t get but so close to most of them in spirit. (page 55)
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There was no doubt that the town respected him and even admired him in a way. But any man who walks in the way of power and property is bound to meet hate. So when speakers stood up when the occasion demanded and said “Our beloved Mayor,” it was one of those statements that everybody says but nobody actually believes like “God is everywhere.” It was just a handle to wind up the tongue with. (page 57)
* * *
When the people sat around on the porch and passed around the pictures of their thoughts for the others to look at and see, it was nice. The fact that the thought pictures were always crayon enlargements of life made if even nicer to listen to. (page 60)
* * *
“Somebody got to think for women and chillun and chickens and cows. i god, they sho don’t think none theirselves.”
“Ah knows uh few things, and womenfolks thinks sometimes too!”
“Aw naw they don’t. They just think they’s thinkin’. When Ah see one thing Ah understands ten. You see ten things and don’t understand one.” (pages 83-84)
* * *
“He wanted her submission and he’d keep on fighting until he felt he had it….So gradually, she pressed her teeth together and learned to hush. The spirit of the marriage left the bedroom and took to living in the parlor. It was there to shake hands whenever company came to visit, but it never went back inside the bedroom again. So she put something in there to represent the spirit like a Virgin Mary image in a church. The bed was no longer a daisy-field for her and Joe to play in. It was a place where she went and laid down when she was sleepy and tired. (page 84)
* * *
She got so she received all things with the stolidness of the earth which soaks up urine and perfume with the same indifference. (page 91)