Their Eyes Were Watching God


Chapter 1-Chapter 5

Chapter 1

Hurston begins the book with a brief outline of the dimensions of life, symbolized by ships kept at a distance, holding all the fulfillment of mankind on board. It appears to be a matter of chance which ones come in to dock. Some dreams come true, and some do not.

For women, “the dream is truth” and once it is possessed it must not be abandoned—even if chance takes the dream back out to sea. Such, at least, appears to be the omniscient narrator’s sense of things.

From this omniscient perspective, the vision is quickly narrowed in scope to a cluster of women gathered upon a porch in Eatonville, where they sit and gossip idly most of the day. They observe a woman in overalls approaching down the main road. It is Janie Starks, a strong, confident, passionate woman who had left them all years ago—left them with a man named Tea Cake. Now she is returned, ostensibly from those same shores where dreams come true briefly outlined by the omniscient narrator in the first few lines of the novel.

The porch sitters immediately begin to speculate on her troubles, but Janie does not pay them much mind. She stops only long enough to acknowledge them politely but then continues on to her old house. It is plain that the women on the porch are envious of Janie’s looks and confidence—even if she does appear to have suffered from time and misfortune. To satisfy their envy, they commence running her down with their talk. Janie’s old friend Pheoby Watson, however, (upon whose husband’s porch they are all gathered) refuses to listen to the women gossip about that which they know nothing of. She quiets the women and takes a plate of food to Janie. The old friends sit on the back porch of Janie’s family’s house. There, apart from the gossipers, Janie begins to tell Pheoby all that has happened to her since she “ran off” with Tea Cake.

In this chapter, Hurston sets the tone of the narrative, combining a kind of mystical scope with a very...

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