Today is the birth date of Zora Neale Hurston, the author of Book 393 in the 1001 Books List: Their Eyes were Watching God.
Written in 1937, Their Eyes Were Watching God is set in central and southern Florida in the early 1900s. It is the story of a woman named Janie Crawford, who is in her early forties and African American. Much of the story is told in flashbacks via her best friend Pheoby.
Janie’s story is understood in three periods divided by her marriages to three different men.
Logan: Janie is result of a rape and is raised by her grandmother who arranges her marriage to an older farmer, Logan Killicks, when she fears Janie is becoming too sexual. Janie’s grandmother thinks the marriage will provide stability for Janie, but Janie thinks love is more important. It turns out, though, that Logan is more concerned with having a servant than with loving a wife. Instead of being forced to work on the farm, Janie runs away with Joe Starks.
Joe: Joe takes Janie to Eatonville, where he sets up as a shopkeeper and gets himself appointed mayor of the town. Janie soon learns, though, that Joe is very concerned with image and wants a “trophy” wife who does not participate in the seedier side of life (much of which is happening on the porch of his store). Joe dies, though, leaving Janie financially independent and the object of pursuit from many eligible suitors.
Tea Cake: Janie, though, falls in love with a drifter / gambler named Vergible Woods but called Tea Cake. So she sells the store and they move to the Everglades. Then, the Okeechobee hurricane hits, and while they survive, Tea Cake is injured trying to save Janie from drowning. Somehow, he is bit by a rabid dog, and he gets rabies. Out of his mind from the disease, he tries to kill Janie, but instead she shoots him in self defense. She is arrested for murder. At her trial, his friends (all black and male) oppose her and a group of local white women show up to support her. She is acquitted and the friends forgive her and want her to stay in town, but she decided to return to Eatonville. The story ends with her going back to find everyone gossiping about her.
This is a great book, a classic for many reasons, but especially because of how it tackles race and gender. I hope you will give it a try! Happy Reading.