Book 19: Their Eyes Were Watching God–Zora Neale Hurston

Even though my Journey to 30 has ended (I hit 30 months ago), I still have some books and dates to finish. I didn’t have a chance to read much right after my birthday because I had some grinding to do for my PhD program and my evaluation job, so my leisurely reading time got cut considerably. But I will finish!

Anyway, I was supposed to have read this book in high school, but for whatever reason the year I was supposed to read it, the curriculum changed. I think this was a junior year English assignment, but once I got to junior year, they decided to move it to sophomore year. *womp, womp*

I did see the movie with Halle Berry…but strangely I only recalled how the story ends. I truly could not remember like 80% of the story. So the whole time I was reading the book, I just kept wondering-ok, is this the part where he gets rabies and loses his mind?

Yea, totally not the point of the story.

There isn’t much I can say about this book that hasn’t already been said; it’s been analyzed to death. But, what was striking for me, disappointingly so, was how little society has changed in terms of the imposed boundaries of acceptable behavior for women. Yes, there are women on social media and TV that do whatever, whenever, and with whomever, without any regard to what anyone else thinks. But, most of us don’t live that life…hell, they barely live that life. You expect to read a story about a woman in the early 20th century to be encouraged to marry young, marry wealthy, to stifle her whimsy and independence, to make herself small for the sake of the egos of the men she wed. To seek safety and economic stability above and beyond happiness. You don’t expect to hear versions of the same refrain 80 years later as if somehow it’s still an okay tradeoff to die a slow emotional mental death for the sake of appearances, respectability, supposed companionship.

I wouldn’t characterize Janie as completely subsumed by these expectations; she still managed to eke out some independence and agency in the areas she could, at the times she could. However, it wasn’t until she decided to say ‘fuck everyone’s expectations’ that she got to experience the love and life she’d always envisioned. AND, at a point in her life–as a widowed older woman–when it’s even less socially acceptable. She was a cougar. She went on and pursued the love she needed and wanted despite all the people in her ear talking about how age and class inappropriate he was. She embraced and expressed her sexuality and beauty when woman are told it’s fading, you’re old, cover up. If nothing else, this novel was a resounding call for honoring your truth, listening to your gut, and pursuing your joy, no matter what happened before, and no matter how old you are. Janie lived a long life, and even though her relationship with Teacake ephemeral–a brief moment in her life’s timeline–the way she expressed her life was that one second with him was more full than whole years prior to him. And that right there is the goal…to find someone (or something) you love so much that time stands still in the best, most desirable way possible.

To quote one of my favorite poets right now, Nayyirah Waheed,

I want to live so densely. lush. and slow.
in the next few years. that a year
becomes ten years. and the past
becomes only a page. in the book of
my life.