Their Eyes Were Watching God is a text I have devoured many times, and always in the spring. Zora Neale Hurston’s love of language comes through in life-breathing metaphors that capture the mysteries of nature. This book begs to be read outside where it leaves words rolling around on the grass.
The excerpts I’ve selected here revolve around the sun. The first scene takes place at dusk, as she opens her story with personification:
The sun was gone, but he had left his footprints in the sky.” (1)
The image of the sun taking a casual walk across the sky is at once mythical and familiar. He will make his way back around in due time. But the sky marks his passage, as if it were trying to hold onto his warm presence for just a little longer and commit it to memory. The smattering of gorgeous color that is left after the sun has descended past the horizon will forever speak to me as footprints because of this line. And as a reminder of higher power.
The sun makes another appearance later in the novel. This time it is dawn, and he is in a different mood:
Janie dozed off to sleep but she woke up in time to see the sun sending up spies ahead of him to mark out the road through the dark. He peeped up over the door sill of the world and made a little foolishness with red. But pretty soon, he laid all that aside and went about his business dressed all in white.” (120)
Before making his appearance, the sun wisely familiarizes himself with the path that lies ahead, in the dark. He imagines his route, illuminating the way before heading in the direction of his intent. The playful peeping over the ‘door sill’ of the world (the horizon) and the foolishness in red hints again at the fleeting, beautiful moments of dawn and sunset. These paintings are transitory, and like many of nature’s most brilliant colors, short-lived. He continues on his ‘business’ as reliably as time itself. And Janie thinks about this age-old truth:
She knew that God tore down the old world every evening and built a new one by sun-up. It was wonderful to see it take form with the sun and emerge from the gray dust of its making.” (25)
In the time of Coronavirus, it helps me to think in these terms. While the days seem to blend into one another and the indeterminate future stretches ahead, it’s important for me to consider each morning an opportunity to start fresh. New developments are made, new possibilities are presented. Last night I lost my temper with my 4-year old and matched his tantrum with my own. It wasn’t my finest hour and I went to bed feeling pretty crappy. But tomorrow is indeed another day. With the first light, we can map out the path that will determine our course. We can recharge, reset, and rethink how we want to approach the promise that is now.
Quotes selected from Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. Perennial Classics, 1990.
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