The Book Was at First Met With Criticism
Although now widely read, Their Eyes was extremely criticized when it was first published in 1937, since black writers of the day saw it as a joke. After its first publication, it went out of print and remained that way for almost 30 years. It went back into print in 1968, and that maybe one of the biggest blessings in the history of Afro-American and feminist literature.
The story is the account of Janie´s life, and her path to self-realization regardless of culture or societal norms.
The book begins with Janie returning home from having buried the dead. She is tired and in pain, both physically and emotionally, but she is ready to tell her story to her best friend, Phoebe.
At 16, Janie began feeling a longing. She saw love around her, on the trees and the flowers, and the bees, but didn´t know what it meant. She wanted to know and thought maybe she would learn once she was married to Logan Killicks. She didn´t want to marry him, but her grandmother had raised her, and since she was near death, she decided that that was the best way to protect Janie from the world.
Logan was much older and didn´t show her any romance. Janie realized she wasn´t falling in love. One day, unexpectedly, she met Joe Starks. Here was a man who was also older, but smart, and stylish, and with dreams in his eyes and in his words.
It took him two weeks to convince her to run away with him, but at last, she was satisfied, and they married that very day.
Loneliness Instead of Love
Although Janie though Joe would be the love of her life, he turned out to be mean and controlling. Jealous and critical of her every move, he slowly killed the love that Janie could have had for him. He became influential and rich and cast her off against her will, making Janie very lonely.
Twenty years later, Joe dies, and Janie becomes more at peace with herself. She cherishes being alone even though she has suitors coming out of the woodwork.
She couldn´t imagine that the most unlikely suitor would be the one to win her heart and show her, at last, what love really is.
Love at Last
His name was Virgil Woods, although everyone called him Tea Cake. He was funny and fun, but most importantly, he treated Janie like an equal. He taught her things like playing checkers and fishing and took her places such as picnics and games.
He appreciated her and enjoyed her precisely as she was, and she couldn´t help but fall in love.
They were a couple of problems though, problems that bothered the town a little more than they bothered Janie: Not only was Tea Cake more than ten years younger than Janie, but more importantly, he didn´t have a dime, and Janie was rich.
Janie decided to overlook the wagging tongues, and her initial doubt left the town with Tea Cake and married him. After this, Janie´s life truly begins.
Following Her Heart
The book is set only three generations after the African American slaves were freed, and as Janie´s grandmother said, at that time, black women were the mules of the world.
They were supposed to obey what they were told, and until Tea Cake came around, that´s what Janie had done, more or less. Once he came into her life, she decided to follow her heart instead of anybody else´s opinion or dictation. The book is an intelligent, thoughtful, and poetic account of the self-realization of a woman that still speaks volumes, more than 60 years after it was written.