Their Eyes Were Watching God Readalong, part 3

Today we’re finishing up a readalong, hosted by The Heroine’s Bookshelf, of Their Eyes Were Watching God. I’m discussing chapters 14-20 (please pop over to THB at the above link to join in). We recently discussed chapters 1-6 and chapters 7-13. Caution: spoilers follow.

A lot happened in the final third of the book! Janie and Tea Cake settled, at the end of part 2, in southern Florida, and many of us readers were concerned with Tea Cake’s reliability. Would he make a good man for Janie? Well, we see them continue to establish a life together, and Tea Cake did turn out to be a good man for Janie – at least in Janie’s eyes. I’m sure I’m not alone in being unhappy with him for being jealous, for flirting with Nunkie, and finally, for beating Janie. But she continues in her opinion that he’s perfectly wonderful, and I do see the good: he brought her a sense of adventure, a sense of community, someone and something to work for and feel good about. I guess I can’t begrudge her the happiness she found. Although the idea that Janie getting beat up “aroused a sort of envy in both men and women” is not one I appreciate.

And then the hurricane! My, but that was some action. Tea Cake and Janie choose to wait out the storm – in their little cabin right on Lake Okechobee – despite the animals and the Indians wisely taking off for higher ground. Their flight from the path of the storm – “de lake is comin’!” – is high drama. And it’s nice that almost none of Janie & Tea Cake’s friends lose their lives. I enjoyed this part quite a bit.

But the tragic ending… I recall that I wasn’t the only one concerned, from the beginning, that Tea Cake “left” Janie. But I guess we didn’t guess how he’d leave. That was high drama, too; I was moved by the courtroom scene, the insinuations that the jury was moved by Janie’s beauty, the insinuations of racism, and finally the transition from indignation to shame and apologetic acceptance on the part of Janie’s community. Tea Cake died as a result of saving Janie during the storm. I guess I have to retract some of my concern. Although beating her was still uncool.

The final scene wraps up Janie & Pheoby’s conversation, in some beautiful language. “Love is lak de sea. It’s uh movin’ thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it’s different with every shore.” Lovely.

I enjoyed this read, and I look forward to joining in the discussion (THB) today.

Their Eyes Were Watching God Readalong, part 2

The Heroine’s Bookshelf is hosting another readalong! We are reading Their Eyes Were Watching God, and I encourage you to participate. Today we’re discussing chapters 7-13 (please pop over to THB at the above link to join in). We recently discussed chapters 1-6, and chapters 14-20 are coming up on December 12.

Part 2 begins with Janie getting well settled in Eatonville as Mrs. Mayor Starks, but not in a good way. “The years took all the fight out of Janie’s face.” Husband #2, Joe, has become a disappointment, criticizing Janie unfairly and keeping her hidden away; she’s not living life to the fullest as she’d hoped to. Joe’s death releases Janie, though, and she begins to have friends, to have a social life. She’s not quickly ready to remarry to have new male company around, though; she sees her suitors for what they are: men ready to take advantage of a wealthy widow, wanting to bed her beauty, and not interested in accompanying her through the exciting and fulfilling life she still wonders about. She considers that she may not want to remarry at all.

All this changes though when Tea Cake comes around: a younger, handsome, sweet-talking man who inspires her love. Despite the warnings of her friend Pheoby, she takes off to meet Tea Cake in Jacksonville where they marry, and Janie embarks on her third marriage.

I was a little leery of Tea Cake myself, and quickly found that our concerns were well-placed when he disappears with her hidden cash savings of $200. He comes back, with a story of the grand party he threw for a bunch of strangers with her money – not an endearing story, considering she wasn’t even invited! and he’s shown an inability to keep his hands in his pockets when there are dollars in them! but at least he does come home, and even returns her money to her, although he does this (apparently) by means of a poker game that ends with some knife wounds that Janie has to care for.

I was surprised to see Janie’s years with Joe fly by so quickly in so few pages; but I guess we got the feel for the monotony and uneventfulness of those years. I am definitely worried about Tea Cake as a stable mate for Janie. I still want for her what she wants for herself: Maslow’s self-actualization, I guess – fulfillment, joy, happiness, love, a realization of her potential and a seeing of a little bit of the world.

This part of the book I found less compelling then the first part, but I’m very willing to let my pain pills take part of the blame there. (If you missed yesterday’s post, I just had knee surgery.) I look forward to some other readers’ input on this section; maybe I missed some strong emotional pull. And I definitely look forward to the rest of the book, and finding out what happened to Tea Cake that has left Janie telling her story to Pheoby in the dark on the back porch.

Don’t forget to hop over to The Heroine’s Bookshelf for today’s discussion!

Their Eyes Were Watching God Readalong, part 1

The Heroine’s Bookshelf is hosting another readalong! Yay! We are reading Their Eyes Were Watching God, and I encourage you to participate. Today we’re discussing chapters 1-6 (please pop over to THB at the above link to join in) and have two discussion dates to come: chapters 7-13 on December 5, and chapters 14-20 on December 12.

Chapters 1-6 introduce us to Janie Crawford, and her tragic family history. At the start of the story, we see a forty-ish Janie coming home from… somewhere, to her town’s gossipy disapproval. And she begins to tell her story to her friend Pheoby. We hear about her youthful marriage, to relieve her aging grandmother’s concern about her future; but she isn’t Janie Killicks for long before leaving him to become Mrs. Mayor Starks, of a brand-new, all-black town. Janie becomes decidedly dissatisfied with being ordered around as Joe Starks’s helpmate and unpaid worker. He’s jealous and keeps her on a short leash, and she wants more out of life. When she was 14 she lay beneath a pear tree in blossom, and felt deeply touched by the springtime rhythms of nature; the descriptions of the pear blossoms, the bees pollinating them, are decidedly sensual and even sexual. Janie is meant for more than working as Joe’s wife-servant. Her perceptions are idealistic and lofty. She has an appreciation for her world that is deeper than that of her power-hungry husband.

Already Janie’s story touches me deeply, and I yearn with her for a world in which a “colored” woman will have value, make decisions for herself, and know love. As a character she’s earned my respect and sympathy.

And such beautiful imagery! I wanted to share with you some of my favorite turns of phrase, but I find them to be many…

“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.”
“The sun was gone, but he had left his footprints in the sky.”
“They made burning statements with questions, and killing tools out of laughs.”
“Janie saw her life like a great tree in leaf with the things suffered, things enjoyed, things done and undone. Dawn and doom was in the branches.”
“She knew the world was a stallion rolling in the blue pasture of ether.”
“Every morning the world flung itself over and exposed the town to the sun.”

The descriptions and the writing are absolutely marvels unto themselves, without even worrying about Janie herself – which I defy you not to.

I’m definitely excited about this book and looking forward to Erin’s readalong. Stop over and join us, won’t you?

another readlong! Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

It’s that time again! I so enjoyed the Great Gone With the Wind Readalong that I couldn’t resist the next event at The Heroine’s Bookshelf. This time we’ll be reading Their Eyes Were Watching God together. I read it when I was a kid, but I don’t think I really grasped it; I didn’t get much out of it and don’t much remember it now. When I read The Heroine’s Bookshelf (the book) I knew I needed to reread, and I got a copy, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. So this sounds like a great opportunity! I enjoyed the way Erin wrote up some backstory, links etc. in the earlier readalong. So now’s the time! If you want to join us, you can sign up here. The schedule is…

November 28: Chapters 1-6
December 5: Chapters 7-13
December 12: Chapters 14-20

See you then. 🙂

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