Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God

Image Source: Penguin Random House Canada

Like many high school students, I had to read a variety of books in my English classes. Some I found interesting while others were a battle to get through, but one left an impression on me like no other. 

I was in my junior year when I first read Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, and while I found it to be an okay read, I wasn’t immediately thrilled to be reading it. But as we began discussing the novel in class, I quickly became enthralled. Little did I know that this novel would play such an influential role in my educational and personal growth, as I was in my sophomore year of college when I picked up another one of Hurston’s classics, Mules and Men, which sparked my interest in Hurston’s life and led me back to Their Eyes Were Watching God. I decided to pick it up for another read and I immediately fell in love with it again. 

The novel depicts the life of Janie Crawford from youth to old age and explores themes of love and pain, power and domination, and inequality and discrimination. Full of symbolism, wit, and remarkable storytelling, I went on to use this novel (among a few others) in my senior project. Even though Janie’s life was wildly different than mine regarding the time and place, I found myself understanding more about my own experiences through her.

As Hurston’s second novel and one that was published in 1937, Their Eyes Were Watching God has received criticism over the years and is often associated with the Harlem Renaissance. Initially, the novel was not popular amongst the African American community, and most of the criticism surrounding the work was from the male writers of the Harlem Renaissance. However, the novel is now considered a great work and is read in many classrooms around the country.

Although I wasn’t immediately a fan, Their Eyes Were Watching God is now one of my favorite novels and one I classify as a comfort read. What are some books you’ve read in school that have made an impact on you?