Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston

“There are years that ask questions, and years that answer.”

I read this book as part of my Back to the Classics challenge, and it left a huge impression on me. It’s one of those that made me think, “How am I just now reading this?”, but I also don’t think I would have fully understood it any earlier.

It’s hard for me to put this review into words as it’s such a deep, spiritual book. The biggest takeaway for me was the theme of marriage. Janie’s grandma wants nothing more than for her to get married, and arranges for her to wed Logan Killicks, the boy down the street with the 60 acres. Janie is resistant and knows what she wants, but believes everyone has her best interest at heart. She marries Logan, and waits for the love to come after.

A couple years later, repulsed and absolutely not in love with Logan, Janie runs off with a man named Joe Starks whom she met only a few weeks prior. He seems clean-cut, ambitious, and promises to treat Janie like a queen. In comparison to her current situation with Logan, she believes this must be love. She marries Joe, and she gets to sit on a pedestal as he becomes mayor of a growing town. To others, this seems like a perfect, privileged lifestyle, but Janie feels manipulated and alienated by her husband. He tells her what to do, how to feel, belittles her and makes her cover her hair. Again, this is not love and she knows it.

Janie spends 20 years with Joe, but months after his passing, Janie meets Tea Cake. He is younger, full of life, and wants nothing more than to play around and have fun with Janie. She’s found her person, but she’s of course skeptical and keeps her distance to make sure she won’t end up with another disappointing marriage.

I won’t spoil it from there, but throughout the book I admired Janie so much. She’s fiercely independent, and knew what she wanted even if everyone else tried to tell her otherwise. My mother grew up in a similar household. My grandmother told her she needed to always be with a man, and although it led to her having the best daughter ever (me), she had to endure two terrible husbands. After her divorce from my father, she stayed single and I grew up believing that I didn’t want to get married. Thankfully she was supportive of that, and it allowed me to figure out who I was before I got involved with someone. Granted I married my high school sweetheart, but he is 100% my soulmate.

I got a bit sidetracked there, but those are the thoughts I was having while reading this book. It was heartwarming and heartbreaking all at the same time. It was a story of true love, endurance, independence and community. The end of the book ripped my heart out, but I also believe it needed to happen to complete the story. I would strongly recommend this one to anyone who hasn’t read it, yet.

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