Book Notes: Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God

If it weren’t for liberal use of the Southern accent, this would be a typical Harlequin novel for readers who really despise women.

The protagonist, Janie, is the most boy-crazy character I’ve ever encountered in literature. She has no interests, no concerns, and no feelings for anything other than men. She has no children, no relatives she cares about, no friends, and no hobbies. There isn’t even a favorite object or a place she’s attached to. No favorite food. No favorite piece of clothing or color. No interest in religion, which for a black woman in the 1930s is quite unusual. It’s all men, men, men. The only conversation she has with another woman throughout the novel that she’s actually interested in having is a long rant Janie delivers about men.

There are definitely women like that, although thankfully not many, so the novel isn’t completely unrealistic. Usually, it’s a function of age, and as women get older, even the most boy-crazy ones learn how to value other things in life. Janie is my age at the end of the novel, and still an empty vessel for whatever man takes her fancy.

Janie’s first two husbands beat and dominate her, so she leaves them. The third husband beats and dominates her but she adores him. The novel thankfully ends after the third but this story could have many more iterations because the character never grows of progresses in any direction. Her life is an endless loop.

Yes, the novel was published in 1937. But even in the sixteenth century there were more complex and interesting female characters. Janie is truly an amoeba. She has less depth than a cat. And the novel doesn’t portray this as Janie’s tragedy. To the contrary, Janie’s complete emptiness is an ideal to aspire to.

Curiously, back in 1937 the novel received very little attention and soon went out of print. It was only recovered quite recently and became a mega bestseller. This goes to show that a fantasy about this kind of womanhood is something quite recent. Nobody wanted to read about women whose only goal in life was to have an orgasm.

Boring, bad novel, people. I still have an aftertaste.