Zora Neale Hurston wrote Their Eyes Were Watching God over seven weeks in Haiti. The novel was published in 1937. Though the novel was written while abroad, Hurston’s home base was actually New York, where she played a prominent role in what we now call the Harlem Renaissance – a time of immense literary, musical, and artistic creativity in the black community of Harlem. Their Eyes Were Watching God is Hurston’s most famous novel. The storyline follows the life of Janie Crawford, a black woman in search of true love and her true self. Both the novel and Hurston were not very well known until 1975, when another African American female writer, Alice Walker, wrote an article entitled "In Search of Zora Neale Hurston." This piece resulted in a renewed interest in Hurston and her writing.
"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, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it's different with every shore" (20.7).
Love. We love talking about it. We love reading about it. We love watching it unfold. We love pining for it. Consider yourselves very lucky, Shmoopsters, because in reading Their Eyes Were Watching God, you get to meet one of the greatest philosophers of love: Janie Crawford.
We don’t know about you, but sometimes, even in spite of ourselves, we think that love has to fit a certain mold. We look to Hollywood to tell us about love, and we see Branjelina or the endless boring couples that make up romantic comedies. When we’re little kids we learn that love should adhere to a strict timeline of “Girl and Boy sittin’ in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g, first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage.”
But a lady like Janie doesn't work in this structure. First of all, Janie has two bad, loveless marriages. Not to mention, there are no babies in baby carriages for her. So when a much younger, charismatic man shows up, Janie can't really experience true love with him, right? That wouldn't fit the love mold.
Wrong. Janie defies convention, and she proves the cynics wrong. She challenges traditional notions of who should love whom and of how people should love each other. She formulates her own philosophy: love is like the sea, ever-changing and taking the shape of every shore it meets. Love comes in all shapes and forms, and it is different with every person we love.