I'm weeks behind schedule, and I had really been hoping to finish this on Thanksgiving. However, something about finishing this does give me hope that I might be able to get through this year.
I ended up listening to about 2/3 of the book on audio while reading along, and then read the last part on my own. Mostly because I felt like I was so close to the end and knew I could finish. Also, by that time, I was pretty sure I could understand it on my own without the narrator. Even though I loved her narration, I also wanted to see if I could do it on my own!
I know you mentioned that you read Their Eyes Were Watching God in college, but I'll give a brief summary. The novel starts with Janie, a black woman in rural Florida in the 20s or 30s who has buried her husband, Joe (she calls him Jody) Starks. He was the big man in town, both the mayor and owner of the local store. Eventually, Janie falls in love with a much younger man, Tea Cake. The townspeople are convinced he is only using her for her money, but she is convinced that he is her true love and takes a chance on him.
I guess I'm still just soaking it all in, but I don't feel like I have anything all that dazzling insightful to say about this book, except for a few observations.
More than anything else, I loved the language in the book, which I noticed both with Ruby Dee's narration, but also when reading on my own. There's something about Hurston's ability to capture in only a sentence the most heartbreaking inner workings of a woman's mind. Especially in the beginning of the book, as we watch Janie's transformation from a young woman brimming with life to a quiet, watchful silence as the years pass with Joe. Hurston describes her like this, "The years took all the fight out of Janie's face. For a while she thought it was gone from her soul. No matter what Jody did, she said nothing. She had learned how to talk some and leave some. She was a rut in the road. Plenty of life beneath the surface but it was kept beaten down by the wheels...She didn't read books so she didn't know she was the world and the heavens boiled down to a drop" (72). Time and time again, I noticed these passages and marked them. It was just a pleasure to read.
The novel itself is beautifully constructed, and some of it I only noticed when I went back through it. Janie both starts and ends the book burying a husband, the major difference being that Tea Cake, the man she buries at the end is the one man she truly loved. The book ends when a hurricane sweeps through and Tea Cake is bitten by a rabid dog. Before he completely loses his mind due to rabies, they have a conversation about the one thing that had always bothered Janie about their relationship, which was that he was at least 15 years younger than she was. (I'm going to quote at length here but click here to listen to Ruby Dee's narration so you can see how brilliant it is!)
Tea Cake began to cry and Janie hovered him in her arms like a child. She sat on the side of the bed and sort of rocked him back to peace.
"Tea Cake, 'tain't no use in you bein' jealous us me. In de first place Ah couldn't love nobody but yuh. And in de second place, Ah jus' uh ole woman dat nobody don't want but you."
"Naw, you ain't neither. You only sound ole when you tell folks when you wuz born, but wid de eye you'se young enough tuh suit most any man. Dat ain't no lie. Ah knows plenty mo' men would take yuh and work hard for de privilege. Ah done heard 'em talk."
"Maybe do, Tea Cake, Ah ain't never tried tuh find out. Ah just know dat God snatched me out de fire through you. And Ah loves you and feel glad."
"Thank yuh, ma'am, but don't say you'se ole. You'se uh lil girl baby all de time. God made it so you spent yo' ole age first wid somebody else, and saved up yo' young girl days to spend wid me" (172).
Isn't that beautiful? He's the love of her life, and she's going to lose him. And it's tragic! He is so ill and delusional that he tries to shoot her and she has to shoot him to save herself. The only thing that seemed like a weird misstep was that she's then jailed, and there's a trial which lasts maybe for 3 pages before she's found not guilty.
We then have made it full circle. The book started with Joe's funeral, and now we see her plan and prepare for Tea Cake's funeral. Janie prepares a grand and beautiful ceremony for Tea Cake, but the last line of the chapter is devastating: "No expensive veils and robes for Janie this time. She went on in her overalls. She was too busy feeling grief to dress like grief" (180). Isn't that lovely and so heartbreakingly sad?
There's so much I didn't talk about with this book, but my initial impressions are all about Janie and her journey as a character. I'm so happy I read this. I have a feeling I will be sitting with this one for a long time.