My week of reading banned books has kind of fizzled. I could not get into To the Lighthouse, and every time I picked up Schindler’s List I kept remembering how much I cried at seeing the movie, and couldn’t bring myself to read it yet. But I did finish Their Eyes Were Watching God. It was really interesting to read it in context with the two southern memoirs I’ve read recently- one about a poor white man growing up to prosperity, the second about a poor black man who was pretty much content his whole life, and now this one about a black woman moving through different social circles in each stage of her life, seeking for love.
This is actually the third time I’ve tried to read Their Eyes Were Watching God. The first two times I got bogged down on the use of language- the dialect all being written in vernacular, which can be a bit difficult to understand at first. This time I couldn’t put the book down! It’s a story of community and relationships, a story of one young woman’s growth to adulthood and her dawning awareness of self and independence.
When Janie is sixteen, her grandmother wants to see her safely married, and Janie soon finds herself on sixty acres with a man who expects her to work just as much in the field as in the kitchen. Her amorous feelings for marriage cool pretty soon, and before long she runs off with another man who catches her fancy. Her second marriage isn’t what she expected either; as her husband becomes more prosperous the distance between them grows. In her third marriage, Janie finally finds happiness and together they move to the Florida Everglades. Things there aren’t quite what she expected either, but she is now more accepting of her husband’s faults as well as outspoken for her own needs and desires. Janie goes from being a quiet figure in the background subservient to her husband’s demands, to a strong woman who speaks up for herself.
I am not sure why this book was on the banned list. The ALA site says it was for “language and sexual explicitness”. I’m guessing by language they meant the use of vernacular. And although some passages had sensual writing (describing nature or inner feelings) the actual lovemaking scenes were short and only hinted at. I wonder if it’s partly because Janie was such an unconventional figure- a woman who went her own way against society’s mores. A lot of the story has to do with how people were judging each other within the black community- and it surprised me to learn they often did so according to how dark or light a person’s skin was. I didn’t expect that. In all, it’s a great story, one that give me another look at life in the South, and inside one woman’s heart. I don’t want to give anything away to those of you who haven’t read it yet, but I just have to say the last few pages took me completely by surprise, and I almost cried.