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: Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connell

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Goodreads Summary:

Wise Blood, Flannery O’Connor’s astonishing and haunting first novel, is a classic of twentieth-century literature. It is a story of Hazel Motes, a twenty-two-year-old caught in an unending struggle against his innate, desperate faith. He falls under the spell of a “blind” street preacher named Asa Hawks and his degenerate fifteen-year-old daughter, Lily Sabbath. In an ironic, malicious gesture of his own non-faith, and to prove himself a greater cynic than Hawkes, Hazel Motes founds The Church of God Without Christ, but is still thwarted in his efforts to lose God. He meets Enoch Emery, a young man with “wise blood,” who leads him to a mummified holy child, and whose crazy maneuvers are a manifestation of Hazel’s existential struggles. This tale of redemption, retribution, false prophets, blindness, blindings, and wisdoms gives us one of the most riveting characters in twentieth-century American fiction.

I did not get this book at all. I have so little understanding of it that I felt like I couldn’t do an accurate summary, hence the Goodreads summary. It took me about three weeks (!) to read this fairly short book, and it was grueling. I’ve been super busy with school, too, and it was so offsetting to start to sit down and read it.

I think I overestimated my ability to stomach classics. I understand there’s a ton of symbolism, I got the gist of some of it, but it was entirely too deep for my mind to wrap around the concepts of the book.

I gathered that Hazel Motes basically pushed himself so far away from Christ by preaching because he secretly wanted to be saved. He had a fascination with Asa Hawks because he “blinded” himself for his faith, and I think Hazel wished that he could believe in something that strongly, but he believed Jesus was a trick so he decided to go in the exact opposite direction.

Blindness is an obvious motif, most likely pertaining to the incorrect interpretation of religion and the allusion to biblical stories. Hazel is definitely a strange character, and the city in Alabama that it’s setting is described as dirty and depressing. Basically, all the characters are strange and very… gross, I guess.

The writing style was done in a way that I hardly could understand anything. It was very abstract and repeated a couple key phrases a lot, but I couldn’t figure out what they were symbols for. The dialogue is abrupt and choppy, and it’s difficult to understand the motives behind the actions to most of the characters. Flannery O’Connell focuses more on their behaviors and less on their thought processes, and this made the odd things they did even more confusing.

The story is also depressing, what little I could understand.

And let me just tell you my biggest failure pertaining to this book. Enoch Emery.

Hazel meets Enoch Emery, the boy with “wise blood,” and he comes back to cameo a couple of times and plays an important role towards the end of the novel.

I don’t understand Enoch Emery in the slightest. I didn’t understand what he was doing, why he was doing it, and how he related to the rest of the story. I think he was supposed to be an external reflection of Hazel’s internal turmoil, but I don’t understand anything he did. I didn’t even half understand it.

The book is named Wise Blood because of this character, and I didn’t get a single thing he did at all. It’s pathetic how much I didn’t understand, because I’m pretty sure I missed a huge chuck of the plot. Oh well.

So, yes. I couldn’t even write an accurate review on it because I understood it so little. If you want to read it, good luck.

1.5 Stars