Zora Neale Hurston’s novel Their Eyes Were Watching God is a book that makes every must read black list, especially if you are a woman. Its almost most shocking if you haven’t read it (like not watching Roots).
The story is told from Janie’s perspective when she was a 40 something year old woman living in an all black town in Florida. She was talking to Phoebe because the town was gossiping about her and she wanted them to know her truth.
She married well in her early life, mostly due to her husband’s tenacity and ambition, and when he died she was left financially independent.
Her beauty gave her a lot of admirer but the younger man had a profound effect on her and she chose to finally marry for love. The relationship was tumultuous as the young man was quite unreliable and a free spirit.
What speaks to the feminine experience of the novel is that Janie not only fulfilled her duty as a wife but she also did something very daring in running off with a young man in her mature years.
This particular piece of the story is striking in its forward thinking. Even in modern society, this is still quite shocking and most people will accuse the man of what they accused Teacake of—that he was after her money and she a lonely older woman was susceptible to his charm and youth.
But because Janie knew herself and was comfortable with her life choice she told her story to the town gossip knowing that her message would be disseminated.
The novel is rich with symbolism and while it was written in the colloquial language it’s intelligence wasn’t lost. The lesson I gleaned from novel was a simple, that as a woman we are responsible for our own destiny, happiness and life. And as they saying goes “when life gives you lemons, bake a damn chocolate cake and leave the rest to figure out how you did it”.