Their Eyes Were Watching God was a profoundly communicative summation of parts that created a rhythmic narrative of the many lives of Janie. Janie, herself, is certainly a workhorse character embodying many lives. Each of her lives served a distinct purpose to describe the struggles of mankind (man or woman, black or white) – the struggles of balancing the innate desire to stand alone, free, and independent with the crushing need for love and the struggles of defining community and oneself within community. Zora Neale Hurston created Janie as a heroine for the African American woman. While their eyes were watching God, Janie’s were strictly focused on determining her own path.
As complicated as the many lives of Janie were the decidedly varied narrative techniques. Oscillating between vernacular speech and highly rhetorical narration, Zora Neale Hurston’s diverse writing style helps define Janie’s loves and lives. Janie moves from a stifled relationship with Jody wherein she does not speak rather is spoken for to her verbose, solid relationship with Tea Cake. The intercut use of Southern black colloquial dialogue provides an authentic voice to the book.
Clearly this is a book and an author that were ahead of their time but continues to resonate today. While the book does fall pray to some clichés (independent woman whose seasons are defined by her relationships with men (snooze)), overall it does more to uplift racial stereotypes by presenting rounded characters who are faulted as we are all faulted, who have desires as we all have desires, and are evolving as we all evolve. In that sense, it is a global story.