I enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I would. Although the vernacular was hard to read through at times (just slowed things down a bit), I thought the pacing was well done (her use of time pulls you through the story… 25+ years in less than 200 pages) and her writing style was captivating.
After reading the last page, I went back and read the first two paragraphs:
“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by the Time. That is the life of men.
Now, women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.”
Rereading this intro gave the book a clarity for me. It’s as though Hurston puts the thesis of protagonist Janie’s journey right there in front of you before you ever being. This was a story of a woman—pure and honest—surviving in the world of men and weighted down by their false ambitions.
This woman, Janie, traveled a path from child bride (16years old. Yeah it was a different time, but gross) to reluctant, widowed, cougar (a 40 something married to a 25 year old), and through a multitude of chaos in between (her crazy hurricane story seemed to foreshadow Katrina). The story relies heavily on the themes of gender and race. But Hurston weaves Janie’s story so seamlessly that, in my mind, it blurs the lines between race and gender issues… they became one in the same. The injustices brought towards Janie weren’t just issues of racism or sexism, they were both. Simply by existing as a black woman those identities are unbreakably linked, and the story Hurston tells (somewhat her own as a black woman white America) is a beautiful and rare look into a unique experience of a specific time and place.
Also the theme of the Watcher carries on through the book. In the title and and throughout the novel it seems to reference the relationship her peers have to God, death and “white folks.” They are always watching. Waiting. Questioning. Their journey is one of seeking something higher, better and more meaningful. But Hurston illustrates, through the telling Janie’s story, that the truth we should all be seeking is love. Not necessarily God, not death, never the “white folks,” but true and mutual love. I don’t think Janie ever find this. She thinks she does in Tea Cake, but it’s a conditional love. Although, like she says…
“… love ain’t somethin’ lak uh grindstone dat’s de same thing everywhere and do de same thing tuh everything it touch. Love is lak de sea. It’s uh movin’ thing, but still and all, takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it’s different with every shore.”