Book Review: Their Eyes were watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Their Eyes Were Watching God

As a teenager, Janie’s grandmother married her off as quickly as possible to an old man with his prospects in his sixty acres. When she’s tired of being stifled by him, she runs away with a man she found on the horizon, Jody. When Jody claims Eatonville and becomes the mayor, he takes her voice and covers her hair. Finally, she meets Tea Cake after Jody’s death, and she realizes what it means to be in love.

Alright, I’ll admit it. I was completely bored in the beginning of this book. And I hated the dialect. And I didn’t really have any feelings toward Janie because to me, she seemed very papery.

I can’t tell you exactly where the transition happened or why, but somewhere toward the middle I realized that I actually really enjoyed reading this book.

First of all, after Janie’s initial marriage and into her second one with Jody, I understood the weight of her voice and the toll it took on her to muffle it. And I started to appreciate how Hurston set up the novel and characterized Janie. It was subtle. She wasn’t papery. She was smart.

One of the major topics Hurston explores is the power of language, and she shows this through Janie’s marriages and attitudes. She hardly talks at all while married to Jody, showing her position as less than him, while with Tea Cake, they have real conversations and her dialogue is scattered throughout the end of the novel. She uses the form of the novel, not giving Janie much dialogue to greatly increasing it, to show her transition from less than her husband to equal with him. By doing this, I mistook her silence for two dimensional, but really it means so much more because language and the lack thereof shows the inequality between genders and Janie’s strategies in her marriage.

It is written pretty much completely in dialect, but I quickly got used to it. I also think the dialect definitely adds to the story, making it more real and emphasizing her themes on the importance of language.

Otherwise, I felt like there was probably a lot of stuff in the book that I missed. Plot wise, it picked up when Jody got sick. There is a bit of a twist with Tea Cake that I wasn’t expecting, but I also neglected to read the back and am a cynic, so it probably wouldn’t be surprising to anyone else.

I really did enjoy the book, and I liked how it didn’t seem like a race novel. Sure, there was a subtheme concerning racism and how it can affect anyone, black or white, but it didn’t overtake the novel. The novel is a classic because of its themes on language and equality, not because it’s only directed toward one audience.

I definitely recommend it as an important classic that isn’t that difficult to read.

4 Stars

“She had waited all her life for something, and it had killed her when it found her.”

Book Review: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Brave New World

In the future, everyone is happy. With the aid of brain washing, genetic engineering, relentless condition, recreation sex and drugs, of course. Bernard Marx seems to be the only one who questions the system, so much so that he decides to take Lenina┬áto the reservations in North America to see the tribal savages– people who live in families and and give live births. Bernard took one of the “savages” back to civilization and he began to question the validity of free will and the usefulness of the control the World Controllers have over the people.

The majority of this book was pretty dull. I found that I disliked Bernard and most of the other characters, but I’m pretty sure that was the point. Lenina and the rest of the filler characters all completely bought the conditioning and the happiness that the World Controllers fed them, and while the reader may root for a moment of clarity for them, it never happens. This ignorance is important to the entire book because it shows how fool-proof the brain washing is. If the children were raised in these castes, raised with sleep-hypnosis and electric conditioning and drilled routines in their brains, than it would be ridiculous to assume that they could simply stop.

Bernard proved to be a little different, but the thing about this protagonist is that he wasn’t a hero. He wasn’t anything, really. Sure, he had more speculations than most about the blind obedience and use of drugs the society submersed themselves in, but he still fed into their social ways. He despised the casual sex until he was a desired candidate. He had doubts about the lab-based children and absence of families until he became famous and gave up thinking about the problems and instead allowed their easy happiness to wash over him.

The “savage”– John– became the real figure to watch. He experienced both a fairly normal tribal life with families and towns, similar to Native American life, and he went to Europe to experience the real civilization. Huxley juxtaposes these two societies together to show that they have similar problems– the manufactured and widely used drug soma in Europe equates to alcohol in John’s tribe– and also to demonstrate the extent the Europeans have drifted from humane behavior and into a technology-controlled stupor.

**MINOR SPOILER**

When John talked with the World Controller and Bernard’s partially self-aware friend at the end of the book, the truly philosophical topics came into play. The whole book raised questions of happiness and free will and wondering if intense emotions like love are worth it if there’s a risk of emotions such as misery. Is it better to be ignorant and blissfully unaware and happy or is it better to have free will be feel deeply and have unhappiness?

They discuss this at the end of the book, and it really ties together the entire themes of the novel. He talks about how conditioning plays the main factor in a person’s life and human instinct is an allusion. Human instinct only relies on one factor: how a person was raised. If they were told from a young age there is a God, they will believe it. If there is no speak of a higher presence, than they are none the wiser.

**END MINOR SPOILER**

The book exaggerates the flaws of modern society in that it shows how conditioning– even something as simple as training your children to believe in God– affects a person more than natural instincts. The novel satirically shows the ease that a person could fall into ignorance, and it brings up the question: is it easier? Sure with the knowledge we have now we think that a life of unawareness would be terrible, but it would be blissful if we didn’t know of anything more. Huxley shows the danger of an all-powerful state and the use of technology to control its people, referencing an over-the-top version of modern society. He degrades sex to an extreme in which it becomes as casual as conversation– even in children– to show that sex has been taken out of context in modern society and is not synonymous with love.

There are so many moral points that Huxley brings up in this book, which is the real reason why it’s a modern classic. The entirety of the plot is not fast-paced or riveting, but the questions that he instills in the readers and his satirical critique of society cause the book to captivate its audience.

4 Stars

Book Review: The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald

4708

The Beautiful and the Damned highlights the aesthetic of the 20’s and portrays F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic extravagant style. This novel follows Harvard graduate Anthony Patch and his beautiful wife Gloria through a leisurely wealthy marriage that only struggles through the influences of alcohol and over-indulgences.

For some reason I loved the title of this book, and I mean, who doesn’t love The Great Gatsby, movie and book? So I decided to try out another of Fitzgerald’s novels, and… it was boring.

Just plain boring. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t good either.

The book went through Anthony’s life single and married and nothing really happened. They drank and spoke about life and partied, just like the normal atmosphere off the 20’s.

The characters weren’t particularly intriguing. They had some dimension, but they were almost too selfish. There was little thought of humanity and even less interest in anything that didn’t directly benefit them. Their friends are based on status and their conversations are full of pretentiousness.

It’s a dense read without anything to really take away from the plot. I did like Gloria, though. She’s very similar to Daisy (true to the Fitzgerald style) and she seemed much more self-aware than the rest of the characters. She knew she was self absorbed and knew that she was beautiful and played into it. She seemed ditsy, but in reality worked her life exactly the way she wanted it.

I don’t know, there’s not much to say about it. I wouldn’t really recommend it because it wasn’t anything special. I waded through the book for about a week and a half and didn’t feel like I gained anything from it.

2 Stars