This is my review of Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston.
My second Great-American-Novel-type book in a row. And I don’t mean it in an awestruck GREAT-American-Novel!!! kind of way. I mean it as a genre of fiction that offers a lot in terms of insights into culture, but not much in terms of plot. For instance, The Great Gatsby is certainly well written, and afforded a peek into the culture of partying and bootlegging that I knew nothing about. But strip away the novelty and you have a confusing tangle of plot, with some unrequited love and an unsatisfying ending. The same applies to Jacob I Have Loved, to a certain extent.
The themes of this book are (in the trendy hashtag style) #feminism #blackpower #womenempowerment #everglades (?). The story is narrated by Janie, a close to middle-aged woman who returns to her hometown after being away for several years. Her neighbours don’t know why she has returned and accuse her of vaguely immoral things, since she was recently married to Tea Cake (the origin of this name goes unexplained), a man much younger than herself.
Janie is misunderstood, though. As a teenager, she was married to a much older man, mostly because there was no one else to look after her. Her second marriage also failed- he saw her as a trophy wife and didn’t treat her with respect. It was her third marriage to Tea Cake that showed her what a healthy relationship should be. They move away and set up a business, but a hurricane strikes.
This book definitely takes you to a different time and place, with its black dialect and culture. But the ending is a little too strange compared to the bleak portrait that had been painted earlier. If you like this novel, try out The Color Purple, which is also about the struggles of black women in the time of racial segregation.