Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (1937)

Their Eyes were watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston (1891 – 1960) was an African-American novelist, memoirist, and folklorist. Born in Notasulga, Alabama, she was the fifth of eight children. Her mother was a teacher; her father a builder and preacher. Her family moved to Eatonville, Florida in 1894, where her father became mayor.

With her determined intelligence and humor, she quickly became a big name in the Harlem Renaissance movement of the 1920s. She had a dual career as a writer (producing novels, short stories, plays, and essays) and as an anthropologist.


Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) is certainly the best known work by Zora Neale Hurston. Always somewhat controversial, it’s fascinating to discover what reviewers thought of it when it first came out. Here are two enthusiastic reviews, one from an Illinois newspaper, and one from Australia, from the year in which this classic was published.

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A 1937 American review of Their Eyes Were Watching God

Freeport Journal-Standard (Freeport, Illinois) • Oct 6, 1937: Their Eyes Were Watching God is the third and finest of Zora Neale Hurston’s penetrating novels of her own people.With intelligence and compassion, Miss Hurston tells the story of Janie, and of the three men she loved and lived with.

She married Logan Killicks, the prosperous farmer, because her grandmother desired it When love did not come to her with time, as her granny had said it would, she left him for Joe Starks. When she and Joe first met, he had nothing. But chance sent them to Eatonville, and there his ambition and lust for power made him mayor of the town.

As his power increased, his love for Janie and his kindness to her diminished. At last, his cruelty goaded her to madness and she killed him.

A long time passed, and then one day “Tea Cake,” young and debonair and swaggering, stepped into: her store. What happened to Janie after that brought her the only real happiness she ever had.

Their Eyes Were Watching God is a moving story, told with humor and great understanding. Miss Hurston has a sense of the dramatic which lifts and speeds her novel. There is a tendency to write preciously and an intoxication with words, both of which tend to clutter a bit the simple story. On the other hand the there is skillful writing and really magnificently handled dialog. 

This novel is certainly one or the season’s best, and adds weight to the conviction that one of these days Miss Hurston is going to produce the great black novel destined to come out of America.

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Their Eyes Were Watching God 75th Anniversary Edition

Their Eyes Were Watching God on Amazon

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A 1938 Australian review of Their Eyes Were Watching God

The Sydney Morning Herald (New South Wales, Australia) • June 3, 1938 : To the reader, weary of sophisticated mannerisms, cynicism, and that blasé attitude towards life which is so often part and parcel of the moderns, Zora Neale Hurston‘s novel should conic as a stimulating tonic of no uncertain quality.

There is a zest and emotional sincerity here which is distinctly bracing; there’s too, a remarkable grasp of the essentials of the craft of novel-writing which might well be observed and emulated by her white brethren. The action is swift, the dialogue is brisk and carefully balanced by short, colorful, descriptive passages.

The theme of the book is a black girl’s search for fulfillment. Janie, orphaned in childhood, was brought up by her grandmother. This old woman, fearing that her charge might share the fate of her forbears, decides that a. safe marriage must be sought as soon as possible. Janie, glad to escape the eagle eye, consents to marry dull, hard-working Logan Killicks.

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Their eyes were watchin god by Zora Neale Hurston

Quotes from Their Eyes Were Watching God

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With a coffee-and-cream complexion and luxuriant hair, it is not long before other men try to attract her attention. Bored by her husband, she succumbs to the boastings and entreaties of Joe Sparks—a Negro with high ideas of his own ability and importance. It transpires that Joe’s estimate of himself is not without foundation. He and Janie go south to Eatonville, an exclusively Negro town.

Here he is elected Mayor. He grows gradually more and more egotistical and jealous of Janie. She grows correspondingly lonely and discontented. When he became too overbearing, she turned on him and stripped him of his pride—he died cursing her. Her next adventure was completely satisfying.

Tea Cake, a delightful young scapegrace, wooed her, and they took the road together. abandoning the pomposities of Eatonville. Down in Florida they planted beans, living and working side by side in utmost content.

Picturesqueness of thought and expression is an outstanding feature of this novel. The Negro view of life and death, far removed from our own, cannot fail to appeal to the imaginative reader.  The climax of the story is handled with skill and force. In the last chapters, Miss Hurston has proved she is a fine artist as well as a competent craftsman.

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Zora Neale Hurston

See also: “Sweat”: An Eco-feminist Master Class in Dialect and Symbolism

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