I was 18 years old when I saw the film Their Eyes Were Watching God starring Halle Berry as Janie and Michael Ealy as Tea Cake. This movie quickly became one of my favorites. As an avid reader, I try really hard to not watch a movie before I read the book. However, at 18, I am not sure I even knew that the film was an adaptation of Zora Neale Hurston’s novel of the same title. I should say that I did not know this book even existed.
Perusing a book haul, I came across a used copy of the book and decided to purchase it. I typically buy more books than I can and oftentimes books will sit on my shelf for months or years even. However, I decided to give the book a go right away. Hurston’s book is incredibly written. The story of Janie and her journey to her relationship with Tea Cake is captivating.
Part of the reason why I try not to watch a movie before I read a book is because then I feel like I am not using my imagination to picture the characters, but I am using the filmmaker’s interpretation of these characters. However, I was not disappointed in this case. Hurston paints a picture of a love so deep and meaningful set against the backdrop of the early 1900s in the South.
That period of time for African Americans was extremely difficult. Following the end of the Civil War, whites sought to reestablish their supremacy and enacted Jim Crow laws, which severely restricted African American progress. Add that with the reemergence of the Ku Klux Klan and life for blacks was not only oppressive, but they were constantly in danger. Hurston’s ability to give an air of hope for her characters despite these conditions speaks volumes to her quality of storytelling.
Hurston’s novel touches on many themes including, but not limited to, love, death, race, and female empowerment. Anyone who is a fan of a good love story, or just good literature in general, would do themselves a disservice if they did not take the time to read this book. More than 80 years after its original publication Their Eyes Were Watching God remains a novel worth reading.
Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York: Perennial Classics, 1990.