Their Eyes Were Watching God

Their Eyes Were Watching God

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This novel about a proud, independent black woman was first published in 1937 and generally dismissed by reviewers. It was out of print for nearly 30 years when the University of Illinois Press reissued it in 1978, at which time it was instantly embraced by the literary establishment as one of the greatest works in the canon of African-American fiction.

Mesmerizing in its immediacy and haunting in its subtlety, Their Eyes Were Watching God tells the story of Janie Crawford—fair-skinned, long-haired, dreamy woman—who comes of age expecting better treatment than what she gets from her three husbands and community. Then she meets Tea Cake, a younger man who captivates Janie's heart and spirit, and offers her the chance to relish life without being one man's mule or another man's adornment.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781402511431
Publisher: Recorded Books, LLC
Publication date: 05/29/2008
Product dimensions: 5.45(w) x 0.62(h) x 7.53(d)

About the Author

Zora Neale Hurston was a novelist, folklorist, and anthropologist. An author of four novels (Jonah’s Gourd Vine, 1934; Their Eyes Were Watching God, 1937; Moses, Man of the Mountain, 1939; and Seraph on the Suwanee, 1948); two books of folklore (Mules and Men, 1935, and Tell My Horse, 1938); an autobiography (Dust Tracks on a Road, 1942); and over fifty short stories, essays, and plays. She attended Howard University, Barnard College and Columbia University, and was a graduate of Barnard College in 1927. She was born on January 7, 1891, in Notasulga, Alabama, and grew up in Eatonville, Florida. She died in Fort Pierce, in 1960.  In 1973, Alice Walker had a headstone placed at her gravesite with this epitaph: “Zora Neale Hurston: A Genius of the South.”


Date of Birth:

January 7, 1891

Date of Death:

January 28, 1960

Place of Birth:

Eatonville, Florida

Place of Death:

Fort Pierce, Florida


B.A., Barnard College, 1928 (the school's first black graduate). Went on to study anthropology at Columbia University.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.

Now, women forget all those things they don't want to remember, and remember everything they don't want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.

So the beginning of this was a woman and she had come back from burying the dead. Not the dead of sick and ailing with friends at the pillow and the feet. She had come back from the sodden and the bloated; the sudden dead, their eyes flung wide open in judgment.

The people all saw her come because it was sundown. The sun was gone, but he had left his footprints in the sky. It was the time for sitting on porches beside the road. It was the time to hear things and talk. These sitters had been tongueless, earless, eyeless conveniences all day long. Mules and other brutes had occupied their skins. But now, the sun and the bossman were gone, so the skins felt powerful and human. They became lords of sounds and lesser things. They passed nations through their mouths. They sat in judgment.

Seeing the woman as she was made them remember the envy they had stored up from other times. So they chewed up the back parts of their minds and swallowed with relish. They made burning statements with questions, and killing tools out of laughs. It was mass cruelty. A mood come alive, Words walking without masters; walking altogether like harmony in a song.

"What shedoin coming back here in dem overhalls? Can't she find no dress to put on? — Where's dat blue satin dress she left here in? — Where all dat money her husband took and died and left her? — What dat ole forty year ole 'oman doin' wid her hair swingin' down her back lak some young gal? Where she left dat young lad of a boy she went off here wid? — Thought she was going to marry? — Where he left her? — What he done wid all her money? — Betcha he off wid some gal so young she ain't even got no hairs — why she don't stay in her class?"

When she got to where they were she turned her face on the bander log and spoke. They scrambled a noisy "good evenin'" and left their mouths setting open and their ears full of hope. Her speech was pleasant enough, but she kept walking straight on to her gate. The porch couldn't talk for looking.

The men noticed her firm buttocks like she had grape fruits in her hip pockets; the great rope of black hair swinging to her waist and unraveling in the wind like a plume; then her pugnacious breasts trying to b ore holes in her shirt. They, the men, were saving with the mind what they lost with the eye. The women took the faded shirt and muddy overalls and laid them away for remembrance. It was a weapon against her strength and if it turned out of no significance, still it was a hope that she might fall to their level some day.

But nobody moved, nobody spoke, nobody even thought to swallow spit until after her gate slammed behind her.

Pearl Stone opened her mouth and laughed real hard because she didn't know what else to do. She fell all over Mrs. Sumpkins while she laughed. Mrs. Sumpkins snorted violently and sucked her teeth.

"Humph! Y'all let her worry yuh. You ain't like me. Ah ain't got her to study 'bout. If she ain't got manners enough to stop and let folks know how she been malkin' out, let her g'wan! "

"She ain't even worth talkin' after," Lulu Moss drawled through her nose. "She sits high, but she looks low. Dat's what Ah say 'bout dese ole women runnin' after young boys."

Pheoby Watson hitched her rocking chair forward before she spoke. "Well, nobody don't know if it's anything to tell or not. Me, Ah'm her best friend, and Ah don't know."

"Maybe us don't know into things lak, you do, but we all know how she went 'way from here and us sho seen her come back. 'Tain't no use in your tryin' to cloak no ole woman lak Janie Starks, Pheoby, friend or no friend."

"At dat she ain't so ole as some of y'all dat's talking."

"She's way past forty to my knowledge, Pheoby."

"No more'n forty at de outside."

"She's 'way too old for a boy like Tea Cake."

"Tea Cake ain't been no boy for some time. He's round thirty his ownself."

"Don't keer what it was, she could stop and say a few words with us. She act like we done done something to her," Pearl Stone complained. "She de one been doin' wrong."

"You mean, you mad 'cause she didn't stop and tell us all her business; Anyhow, what you ever know her to do so bad as y'all make out? The worst thing Ah ever knowedher to do was taking a few years offa her age and dat ain't never harmed nobody. Y'all makes me tired. De way you talkin' you'd think de folks in dis town didn't do nothin' in de bed 'cept praise de Lawd. You have to 'scuse me, 'cause Ah'm bound to go take her some supper." Pheoby stood up sharply.

"Don't mind us," Lulu smiled, "just go right ahead, us can mind yo' house for you till you git back. Mah supper is done. You bettah go see how she feel. You kin let de rest of us know."

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Foreword xi
Their Eyes Were Watching God 1
Note on Publication History 229

What People are Saying About This

June Jordon

The prototypical black novel of affirmation; it is the most successful, convincing, and exemplary novel of black love that we have. Period.

Alice Walker

There is no book more important to me than this one.

Reading Group Guide

Plot Summary
Under "a blossoming pear tree" in West Florida, sixteen-year-old Janie Mae Crawford dreams of a world that will answer all her questions and waits "for the world to be made." But her grandmother, who has raised her from birth, arranges Janie's marriage to an older local farmer. So begins Janie's journey toward herself and toward the farthest horizon open to her. Zora Neale Hurston's classic 1937 novel follows Janie from her Nanny's plantation shack, to Logan Killicks's farm, to all-black Eatonville, to the Everglades, and back to Eatonville--where she gathers in "the great fish-net" of her life. Janie's joyless marriage to Killicks lasts until Joe Starks passes by, on his way to becoming "a big voice." Joe becomes mayor of Eatonville and is just as determined as Killicks was to keep Janie in her proper place. Through twenty years with Joe, she continues to cope, hope, and dream; and after Joe's death, she is once again "ready for her great journey," a journey she now undertakes with one Vergible Woods, a.k.a. Tea Cake. Younger than Janie, Tea Cake nevertheless engages both her heart and her spirit. With him Janie can finally enjoy life without being one man's mule or another's bauble. Their eventful life together "on de muck" of the Everglades eventually brings Janie to another of her life's turning points; and after burying Tea Cake, she returns to a gossip-filled Eatonville, where she tells her story to her best friend, Pheoby Watson, and releases Pheoby to tell that story to the others. Janie has "done been tuh de horizon and back." She has learned what love is; she has experienced life's joys and sorrows; and she has come home to herself in peace.

Discussion Topics
1. What kind of God are the eyes of Hurston's characters watching? What is the nature of that God and of their watching? Do any of them question God?

2. What is the importance of the concept of horizon? How do Janie and each of her men widen her horizons? What is the significance of the novel's final sentences in this regard?

3. How does Janie's journey--from West Florida, to Eatonville, to the Everglades--represent her, and the novel's increasing immersion in black culture and traditions? What elements of individual action and communal life characterize that immersion?

4. To what extent does Janie acquire her own voice and the ability to shape her own life? How are the two related? Does Janie's telling her story to Pheoby in flashback undermine her ability to tell her story directly in her own voice?

5. What are the differences between the language of the men and that of Janie and the other women? How do the differences in language reflect the two groups' approaches to life, power, relationships, and self-realization? How do the novel's first two paragraphs point to these differences?

6. In what ways does Janie conform to or diverge from the assumptions that underlie the men's attitudes toward women? How would you explain Hurston's depiction of violence toward women? Does the novel substantiate Janie's statement that "Sometimes God gits familiar wid us womenfolks too and talks His inside business"?

7. What is the importance in the novel of the "signifyin'" and "playin' de dozens" on the front porch of Joe's store and elsewhere? What purpose do these stories, traded insults, exaggerations, and boasts have in the lives of these people? How does Janie counter them with her conjuring?

8. Why is adherence to received tradition so important to nearly all the people in Janie's world? How does the community deal with those who are "different"?

9. After Joe Starks's funeral, Janie realizes that "She had been getting ready for her great journey to the horizons in search of people; it was important to all the world that she should find them and they find her." Why is this important "to all the world"? In what ways does Janie's self-awareness depend on her increased awareness of others?

10. How important is Hurston's use of vernacular dialect to our understanding of Janie and the other characters and their way of life? What do speech patterns reveal about the quality of these lives and the nature of these communities? In what ways are "their tongues cocked and loaded, the only real weapon" of these people?

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Their Eyes Were Watching God (SparkNotes Literature Guide Series) 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 114 reviews.
Talysia More than 1 year ago
This is one of the most memorable books I think I've read so far. I was only around the age of 13 when my sister lended me the book, and 2 years later I'm still able to look back at the characters and the way it touched me.Some parts of the book were very challenging especially for my intellect at the time, but I would still reccomend this book to anyone who wants to learn about things in the past. I read it once and I'm looking forward to reading it again...
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ships at a distances has every man wishing aboard. What a fantastic way to use imagery! Words that have stuck out in my mind for about 5 years. This book has many themes that people of all races can relate to.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the most god awful book I've ever read. The submissiveness of Janie is disgusting, it is impossible for her to stand on her own two feet. This book is pointless, and it's only plot is a woman who keeps finding other men to run to after her marriages crumble as an escape route from her current town
Guest More than 1 year ago
Their Eyes.....was the best novel that I've read throughout highschool. I like the way Zora symbotically describes love and men throughout the novel to the ways of nature.
rareflorida on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have put off reading this book because I didn't figure my profile fits the target audience but I was wrong. The author and I may differ skin color and gender; however, neither of us panders much to anybody. Hurston wrote with truth and many did not like hearing such a thing. Country White folk sound much like country Black folk but another author of the era, Richard Wright, thought Hurston was dumbing down Blacks. Use phonetic spellings does make the book difficult to read and I could have used some easier to read narrative but I see why she wrote with such style. Hurston's love/hate relationship with Black men probably irritated Wright. Hurston shows good and bad exists regardless of skin or gender, like I said she does not pander.
SoonerCatholic on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Setting: This story about life's journey is set in Florida during the 1920s.Plot: Janie follows 3 husbands in pursuit of happiness and independence.Characters: Janie (protagonist) beautiful, naive; Logan- Janie's 1st husband; Joe- her 2nd husband; Tea Cake- 3rd husband; Townspeople- (antagonist)Symbols: the mule, 3 houses, 3 husbands, hurricaneCharacteristics: moved between prose and poetic prose, biblical allusionsMy reaction: I enjoyed the story because it could be read with out worrying about the symbols
ThatsFresh on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I love this book and have spread it around to all my friends since reading it. The story takes place in the South when racism is at full force and in a time where a single woman is crazy if she aint married. Throughout the book, we dive into the main stars background and follow her beautiful life story, which deals with love, hatred, life and death. It¿s about a woman unconsciously soul searching and looking for others to satisfy her, and in the end, discovering that all she needs is herself. Though getting started with this book is hard, since the all the characters talk with a huge Southern accent that¿s hard to read, it¿s defiantly worth it.
Crowyhead on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"There are years that ask questions and years that answer."This is an amazing book; the language holds such beauty and power, and while the story is at times heartbreaking, it is also a tale of love and survival. Highly recommended.
ursula on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found the vernacular a bit hard to read at times, I had to slow my reading pace in sections where there was a lot of dialogue. But it was worth slowing down for. The story is one of practicality and hardship giving way to confidence and self-assurance. Some passages were so beautiful I had to stop and read them again, particularly the section from which the title comes, and the following one."The familiar people and things had failed her so she hung over the gate and looked up the road towards way off. She knew now that marriage did not make love. Janie's first dream was dead, so she became a woman."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston, tells the story of Janie, a young black woman who is longing to find out who she is and gain her independence from the typical stereotype of women needing a man to protect them. At a more in depth view it’s easy to notice how complex of a character Janie is: she’s beautiful, powerful and very intelligent. This book has an array of main and supporting characters due to the changing locations; Tea Cake, Janie’s longest lasting relationship, is one of the main characters who plays a large role in Janie’s life. Tea Cake helps Janie realize who she is, and what she is capable of accomplishing; he is a strong, well-rounded character who has great moral development. The other main character is Jody Starks; although he makes his appearance before Tea Cake he plays no role in any of Janie’s character development. Out of Janie’s three husbands Tea Cake was the best, but her other two husbands were Jody Starks and Logan Killicks.  The setting of this story is really significant because it is based in Florida a little while after slavery had been abolished. Because of this there are several other characters that resemble Janie and her husband Tea Cake, all searching for a home and a place they can fit in to live their life. The dialect between the characters plays another large role in the book; throughout the entire story the characters don’t speak proper English, almost as if they weren’t educated, but it gives the book a sense of realism. As the story progresses, Janie becomes more outspoken and is able to express herself with assurance. The major turning point and the connection of the book’s title comes from when Janie, Tea Cake, and others are faced with a horrible hurricane. This part of the novel shows a significant theme of humans against God. During the hurricane there is a point where they are all helpless and no longer know what it is they should do. The whole concept of the book is God’s almighty power over all living things. God helps guide the people in the novel, especially Janie, on a path to self-betterment, knowledge, self-worth, and where their place is in the world. God must also assert hardships and allows Janie to fight against others’ perceptions, battle within herself and her thoughts, and eventually learn from all her experiences in order to become strong and independent. In the end, Janie has grown and overcome an amazing amount of barriers.  To many, the ending of the novel may seem quite sad and melancholy, but it is actually the best part of the novel. Janie loses Tea Cake to rabies from an infected dog during the hurricane, but in that we have seen that she is capable of being on her own and has finally found her place in the world. She learned of her strengths and is self-assured with her life; Janie has sacrificed all she needed to finally be able to understand the true meaning of life, God, and herself.  I recommend this book to anyone who just wants a good book to read; although some might be hesitant to read a book that has been called something along the lines of being not “serious fiction” and “ carries no theme, no message, no thought.” 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
UGH! I remember reading this in High School! It was AWFUL! My English teacher even hated it! She just read it because it was part of the curriculum. Don't read this! Janie is just an idiot looking for a guy to "love". I don't want to spoil part of the end, but it was dumb and her fault. Just saying. It's true
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