Recommend a Diverse Classic: Their Eyes Were Watching God

Classic Remarks


Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.


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Recommend a Diverse Classic

Star Divider

Zora Neale Hurston was both an author and a folklorist, whose research influenced many of her writings. Her best known novel is perhaps Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), which centers on Janie Crawford and her three marriages. Janie’s tale recounts how she initially was married off to an older man for protection, only to find that he doesn’t love her. She then runs off with another man, who only wants to use her. Finally, she marries for love, but again finds her relationship with her husband to be unstable. Through her three marriages, Janie (and Hurston) explore the gender roles and the expectations society places on women.

Though published in the 1930s, Their Eyes Were Watching God still feels incredibly relevant. The issues it grapples with, from domestic violence to the role of men and women in marriage are issues that society continues to grapple with. In many ways, the novel feels a bit ahead of its time, with Janie seeking love and self-fulfillment, while being open to her own sexuality, in the face of a disapproving society. The book, however, presents no easy answers. While Janie’s third marriage appears to be her happiest, because her husband Tea Cake sees her as more of an equal than her previous two husbands, the novel also suggests that Janie is not fully realized as an independent woman until after Tea Cake’s death. In this way, Their Eyes Were Watching God illustrates an intriguing tension that many readers may find relatable. Janie wants to find her identity in a happy marriage, but, if she cannot be seen as an equal to men, she may ultimately not be able to do so. She wants both love and respect, but can women truly have it all?

Their Eyes Were Watching God is a powerful novel by a talented author–one whose work was not always appreciated in her own time. If you have not read it yet, maybe now is the time to give it a try.

10 thoughts on “Recommend a Diverse Classic: Their Eyes Were Watching God

  1. Michael J. Miller says:

    I love this book! It’s one of my favorite novels. It was given to my years ago by my (then girlfriend now) best friend. It was her favorite book and she raved about it and gave it to me to read. BUT I though she had given me HER OWN PERSONAL COPY so I was too scared to read it XD. What if I messed it up?!? It’s so important to her! Like a year later she said something about my never reading it, I said I was scared to mess it up, and she laughed and said she bought the book FOR me. With that knowledge I read it immediately and ended up loving it. I’ve read it a few times since. It’s such a powerful story.


    • Krysta says:

      That’s a great story! I love how your friendship adds an extra special dimension to your relationship with the book!

      I also would like to add that once upon a time I lent my best friend a book and for some reason we got into an argument. So she threw it over a hedge into a mud puddle. Ah, friendship. I think of her every time I see that book.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Michael J. Miller says:

        I CAN’T EVEN. I HAVE NO WORDS. A mistake I may – MAY – be able to get over but INTENTIONALLY doing that to my book?!!? I don’t know if I could even keep the friendship going after that :8. Hit me however you like – physically or emotionally – but leave my poor books out of it!

        I am literally at a loss for words. I am for real cringing in pain! Regardless of salvaging the friendship I would 1,000,000% buy the book again. As you may or may not be able to tell, I have some book OCD issues XD.

        Incidentally, the story goes that when the Sufist mystic Rumi was praying for a teacher, his soon-to-be teacher/soul mate was praying for a student. When Shamz Tabriz saw Rumi and knew he was the student he was looking for. Shamz went down to the town square where Rumi was teaching and threw all Rumi’s books – including the only existing copy of his father’s completed poetry – into the fountain. Than he told him, “Now you must learn to live what you’ve been reading about in books.” Rumi followed Shamz and became one of history’s greatest mystics. When I hear that story all I can think of is how far from that level of enlightenment I am because I probably would’ve hit Shams.


        • Krysta says:

          I guess I should add that we were pretty young and we are still friends. But part of me never got over the sacrilege because I still remember it. Like, I get you’re angry at me, but why would you take it out on the book???

          I also believe I ended up rebuying the book. My copy now looks pristine. I take really great care of my books and I think one of the proudest moments of my life is when I donated some childhood books to the library and I overhead a staff member say something like, “Look at these great books! What a shame they were never read!” I read them SO MANY times. I just treat my books with love. 🙂 Anyway, I wonder if it’s too late for me to bill the friend for the new copy?

          Also, what? If Shams did that to me, my first instinct would NOT be to follow him. You can live your life to the fullest without destroying books!

          Liked by 1 person

          • Michael J. Miller says:

            I have never felt closer to you than I do right now. “I just treat my books with love.” Yes! Amen! Right on! 1,000x YES. Your library donation story is one of the most fantastic things I’ve ever heard. My heart is all warm and fuzzy now, bursting full of happiness :).

            Also, I think you can totally bill your friend for the book. But, honestly, I’d be ok with billing Shams centuries after he ruined those books just for the principle of it because, you know, he’s dead and can’t actually pay for them. BUT STILL.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Krysta says:

              Haha, I can totally see one of those retroactive trials. Like I think they are/were trying to clear Dante’s name in Florence? I just know there’s a book lover out there waiting to see if they can get Shams for destruction of books even now. XD

              Liked by 1 person

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