For the most part, I have very positive feelings toward Southern Literature. Books like To Kill a Mockingbird and Mooncalf are some of my absolute favorites. When I began reading Their Eyes Were Watching God I assumed it would be similar to other Southern Literature books like To Kill a Mockingbird, which focuses on larger social issues like racism and justice. However, Their Eyes Were Watching God is a very different book with a very familiar setting and tone.
Their Eyes Were Watching God is about Janie Crawford. She is a fully realized, complicated, and human character. She is one of the better characters I have come across in some time. Throughout the book's pages, there is a genuine story arc for Janie. She progresses, has flaws, strengths, and is a different person at the end of the book than from who she was at the beginning of the book. When so many characters in other books are so flat, Janie Crawford is a fine example of a fine fictional character.
In addition to Janie, Their Eyes Were Watching God is filled with memorable and fully realized characters. Although the secondary characters don't have the same kind of story arc that Janie does, a reader would find it difficult to identify any character in the book which does not serve a valuable purpose. Tea Cake, for example, is an exceptionally written character. Hurston forces the reader to feel the uncertainty and doubt that Janie does. For a short time in the book, the reader is not entirely sure of Tea Cake's motives nor his loyalties. It was the best of mysteries, if it can be called that, which once answered, is fulfilling and heartbreaking when taken into context with the end of the book.
The one significant flaw I think the book does have is its inconsistency of themes, namely that of God and his role in our lives. The book dances around the question, but never fully embraces it or examines it. It's a passing thought, which is all the more ironic since the name of the book, Their Eyes Were Watching God, suggests a deeper examination of the question. The reader won't find that examination here.
Their Eyes Were Watching God is a beautifully written and deeply saddening story. From a character study perspective, it's superb. I consider it unique among the Southern Literature books I have read because it doesn't focus on the themes and social issues one would expect. Rather, it focuses on one woman, who she is and who she wants to be. I enjoyed reading about Janie Crawford, and Zora Neale Hurston deserves the credit she has received for creating such a vibrant and real character.
Other Topics of Interest:
Her Name is Scout
Reflections: The Prince of Frogtown