For all the reviews of this book, both positive and negative, few point out what genre it occupies. To me, this is the key to understanding the work; "Their Eyes Were Watching God" is simply a trashy romance novel! Think Danielle Steel, except less explicit and sleazy because it was written in 1937.
But once you examine the book from that perspective, it makes far more sense. Janie is the narrator and protagonist, an attractive woman who has never held down a job, and whose life revolves around her various love affairs.
First, she marries Logan Killicks. She doesn't care for him, and runs off with a prosperous older man named Jody. However, when he gets old and can't perform sexually, she tires of him. On his deathbed, she taunts the suffering man by telling him she has found another lover. (Emma Bovary has nothing on the cruelty of this Messalina!)
This man is a gambler, the lazy, selfish, and incompetent Tea Cake. He also beats Janie regularly, and she is expected to work hard to support him. However, Janie doesn't mind; she finds him irresistibly sexy and is in love.
While many reviewers decry what a horrible message this sends (and they're correct), I will give Zora Neal Hurston credit for a very realistic touch.
Sadly, men like Tea Cake are to be found throughout the world, among every race, and in every community, as are the women who love them. And frequently, said women are cruel, vicious idiots themselves, as is the case with Janie. (Although she is ostensibly presented as a hero throughout the novel)
It's also true that spousal abuse is tolerated and condoned more within the black community than it is say, among Asians, whites, or Hispanics, to this very day. If you feel upset at that comment, please direct your outrage at the army of black women who staunchly defended Chris Brown in the wake of him beating Rihanna half to death, and argued the (insert vile expletive here) had it coming.
But while I appreciate the realism, it's neither interesting nor does it have a point. In fact, the whole book lacks both entertainment or any real ideas behind it. Events occur, but they are neither original, well-described, nor illustrative of any thought.
But of course it doesn't feature any of that! It's a trashy romance novel, remember?
However, even judged against the standards of that genre, "Their Eyes were Watching God" is quite lousy.
The description of the romance is tepid and unappealing. None of the characters come across as remotely sexy or even likable. They are nasty, vicious, venal personas. It doesn't help, as others have mentioned, that the language is stilted and further encumbered by being written phonetically.
Thus, "Their Eyes were Watching God" is a crappy, trashy romance novel. Although, with the passage of time, it's slightly improved, and is now a crappy, trashy, historical