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Their Eyes Were Watching God - Mary Helen Washington, Zora Neale Hurston, Henry Louis Gates Jr. ”Dey gointuh make ‘miration ‘cause mah love didn’t work lak they love, if dey ever had any. Then you must tell ‘em dat love ain’t somethin’ lak uh grindstone dat’s de same thing everywhere and do de same thing tuh everything it touch. 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.”

Janie Crawford knows about love. She knows how life is with it and she knows how life is without it. She had three marriages with varying degrees of success. The first was a marriage with a much older man when she was on the verge of womanhood. Her Grandmother, fearing her own death, and wanting to make sure that Janie had some security in her life made arrangements with a man of means to be her husband. Nanny wasn’t worried about love, but about whether a man could provide. She was looking at her granddaughter’s future with old eyes. Love and lust, from her withered view, were just enticements best skipped for the security of a solid roof and a steady diet of square meals. Nanny was a force of nature and any protest that Janie may have thought about making was quickly swallowed up in the gale force wind of her grandmother’s will.

”Nanny’s head and face looked like the standing roots of some old tree that had been torn away by storm. Foundation of ancient power that no longer mattered. The cooling palma christi leaves that Janie had bound about her grandma’s head with a white rag had wilted down and become part and parcel of the woman. Her eyes didn’t bore and pierce. They diffused and melted Janie, the room and the world into one comprehension.”

Zora Neale Hurston

It wasn’t long before a smooth talking man by the name of Joe Starks came along and told her all the wonderful things he would be doing with his life. With barely a twist of her arm she jumped in the buggy with him and moved to Eatonville, Florida where an all black community was being formed into a town. Joe could see the potential and opened up a general store/post office and started making money hand over fist. He didn’t like the way the men looked at Janie and had her tie up her lovely hair everyday so as not to rile up so much lust in the male population. He was controlling and had words of “wisdom” to attach to everything he instructed her to do.

”You sho loves to tell me whut to do, but Ah can’t tell you nothin’ Ah see!”
“Dat’s ‘cause you need tellin’’ Joe rejoined hotly. “It would be pitiful if Ah didn’t. Somebody got to think for women and chillun and chickens and cows. I god, they sho don’t think none theirselves.”

Now Joe just seemed to fold all up in himself and took sickly and died leaving Janie with a good stack of green and as good a living as she wanted to make. Now Janie was North of forty, but was still a damn good looking woman.

"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 bore holes in her shirt. They, the men, were saving with the mind what they lost with the eye.”

The Lovely Halle Barry played Janie Crawford in the 2005 movie version

The men of the community that had been having unnatural thoughts that came...well...very naturally to them regarding this married woman soon found themselves on the outside track once she became a widow. A young man by the name of Tea Cake showed up and suddenly for the first time Janie found out what love felt like. Dear lord did the community carry on about this old woman shaking the sheets with this youngster with no money and no name for himself. Janie herself was suspicious even pushed him about the thought that his intentions might be built on false pretenses.

”Janie, Ah hope God may kill me, if Ah’m lyin’. Nobody else on earth kin hold uh candle tuh you, baby. You got de keys to de kingdom.”

Now what woman could resist that.

I'm ready. Where do you want to go?

They moved down in the Everglades to pick beans by day and for Tea Cake to shake the dice by night. He could pick a mean guitar as well and sang songs for the entertainment of all those hard working people.

Yo’ mama don’t wear no Draws
Ah seen her when she took ‘em Off
She soaked ‘em in alcoHol
She sold ‘em tuh de Santy Claus
He told her ‘twas aginst de Law
To wear dem dirty Draws

Like all her other husbands Tea Cake is not above being jealous. Men kept circling around her like bees looking for a hive.

”Before the week was over he had whipped Janie. Not because her behavior justified his jealousy, but it relieved that awful fear inside him. Being able to whip her reassured him in possession. No brutal beating at all. He just slapped her around a bit to show who was boss. Everybody talked about it next day in the fields. It aroused a sort of envy in both men and women. The way he petted and pampered her as if those two or three face slaps had nearly killed her made the women see visions and the helpless way she hung on him made men dream dreams.”

Yeah they are looking at you Zora.

Now there are hurricanes, heart breaks, rabid dogs, lustful men, stiletto knives, and a young girl blossoming into a beautiful woman that has to find her place in the geometry and geography of love. Hurston has a keen eye for observation and an attentive ear for conversation. I had so many notes and jotted down so many page numbers of amazing quotes that if I’d worked them all into this review I’d go way over my allotted word count.

Now Zora Neale Hurston did not become famous for being a gifted writer. She worked as a substitute school teacher, librarian, freelance writer, and even as a maid towards the end of her life. When she suffers a stroke in 1959 she is forced to enter the St. Lucie County Welfare Home where she remains until her death on January 28th, 1960 from hypertensive heart disease. She is buried in an unmarked grave in the Garden of Heavenly Rest, Fort Pierce.

In the 1970s Alice Walker becomes an advocated for Hurston’s body of work. Through Walker’s efforts Zora’s reputation is restored and her works begin to be added to the syllabuses of major universities. As a final tribute to Hurston, Walker finds the approximate point of her internment and puts a grave marker on the site. This is vindication for a voice that was not heard by enough people when she was alive, but now at last she is being read, discussed, and loved.

Also, see Mike Sullivan's and Steve Kendall's fine reviews http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/461840640 and http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/286720663