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You Can’t Judge a Book By Its Title: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

14 Nov

eyeswerewatchinggod
Their Eyes Were Watching God has always been a favorite read of mine ever since college. It’s so much more than the title and I am fascinated with novels that are more than what their titles imply. Of course, the title plays a major role within the book but it’s not what resonated with me the most about the book.

There is this quote that always stood out to me even as I got deeper into the plot.

“She had an inside and an outside now and suddenly she know how not to mix them” (Hurston 72).

I have always touched upon this idea of identity, self and truth in many of my other posts, and how this all overlaps in one way or another. This is because truth and what is truth and how truth and beauty can not only be subjective but also incomprehensibly unbiased deeply intrigue me. How can something beautiful to all be ugly to one, but then in the end beauty and ugly are truths that everyone feels and agrees with. Now I know this may seem confusing and complex, but stay with me. What I mean is that the meaning of beauty remains the same but what is defined as beautiful is what changes.

On this note I love noticing things that are hidden within novels that others may not see. As farfetched – far-reaching – as this may seem I feel as though the title has a lot less to do with religion and a lot to do with keeping one’s eyes one oneself. There is a part of the book where her hair is tied together – no pun intended – with the word “glory” to which to me seems biblical, spiritual, and almost godlike. Wrestling with this and how it connects with other blogs I have written, I went on a symbolic and metaphorical word journey.

How does her hair and all its “glory” relate to having an inside and an outside? It could simply mean that she has her organs and then she has her looks, or she had her soul and then her spirit, or even she had a reality and then an appearance – if we look into the literal. I think it meant that she had vulnerability and she had strength. This can tie into having a reality that you portray about yourself and an appearance that you show to the world. We all appear as someone to others and it can be a form of truth of who we are but it’s not all of it.

We all have an inside and an outside. What I find fascinating is that they can’t be mixed. Of course she has her own reasons within the book as to why she knows not to mix them, but it’s an enlightening concept that really hit me with this novel.

All this to say – as my downward spiral did not serve this book justice – this book is definitely worth a read and is much more than just college material.

Besides the book in print you can also check out from BCCLS Libraries a movie adaptation starring Halle Berry and an audiobook on CD.  Ebook and digital audiobook versions are available from eLibraryNJ, and a digital audiobook version from Hoopla.  If you are interested in learning more about the author, you can check out the documentary, Zora Neale Hurston: Jump at the Sun available to stream from Kanopy.

Written By
Sherissa Hernandez
Adult Programming Assistant

What books have you read for school that resonate with you even more now?  Share them with our readers in the comments!

She’s the Man on the Twelfth Night: A Modern Movie and a Classic Play

24 Oct

In the comedy of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night it is ironic how there is a romantic happy ending but only tragedy is his romances – but that is the irony and beauty and also frustration of Shakespeare’s genres.

Now, although I’m sure while Shakespeare may have seemed ahead of his time, he would thoroughly appreciate being labeled as one of the original Rom-Com artists there were. And in this label of rom-com comes a modern twist on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night called She’s the Man. In case some were not aware – yes, Amanda Bynes’s She’s the Man was based on Shakespeare’s comedy Twelfth Night.

Now, while some of the originality of the comedic twists and satire may be lost in this modern day version, what shocked me the most was the accuracy in its depiction – while I’m aware of this contradiction this portrays, let me elucidate.

Shakespeare was very direct in his meanings – even if they seemed hidden within his plays – about sexuality, gender and love. He always found a way to get across how blurry all the lines can seem when it came to one’s identity in romance and attraction and even personality. Twelfth Night was one of those plays that all the lines were so blurred that they almost came across as very clear. It was evident that his plays were meant to entertain – just as the modern day rom-com movie interpretation – but what it also revealed was the reality of mixed identity in all of us.

What the performance reveals by way of concealing in Twelfth Night as a text, is how the way one dresses suggests the existence of a sense of “truth.” It is with this suggestion that we are presented within this “truth,” “true” identity. On the same note, it elaborates on having more than one “true” identity. It is suggested that if the true self is a performed self, then this justifies moreover that the many layers of clothing one can put on, allows them to perform – reveal – many “true selves”.

In turn, in “She’s the Man” Viola of course changes her attire to match that of Sebastian’s, but in actuality she is only putting on another layer of her true self in order to fit in and succeed in love, in identity and in life. It’s not that her true layer is a man, it’s what her true layer as a man represents within the movie, and within the play.

More so, Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, or, What You Will alludes this within the second title What You Will. This suggests that what you will – will power – yourself to do is who you are at that moment. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “will” as “desire, longing, and disposition” (OED). It is in this very definition of “will” meaning “disposition” that we see another suggested implication of the title meaning. So, What You Will could possibly translate into “What You Control”, and what one controls within this play are the clothes they put on. It is the tangible covering of the different layers of clothes that each character puts on that only reveals another “costume” or performance of themselves.

It is in this act of “will” that we see Viola try to take control of her identity, of her disposition. But all this is hidden in a comedic plot line with witty quips, satiric innuendos, and “happy endings.”  Having read the play, it is interesting to see the deeper development within each scene in the film adaptation. It’s also strange to feel a sense of relation to Disney’s classic Cinderella, whom also identified and changes her future in love and personality by what she wore only for it to be stripped away at the stroke of midnight. It’s strange to see how powerfully Shakespeare was onto something way ahead of his time – and the shear fact of how one can be identified by the layer they put on, both metaphorically and literally.

If you often find Shakespeare intimidating, you can borrow a variety of accessible versions of Twelfth Night from BCCLS Libraries including the original text with a modern version side by side, a retelling in rhymed couplets for kidsa filmed version starring Helena Bonham Carter, and even a comic Manga adaptation.  Also check out our previous post on how to stop hating Shakespeare!

Written by:
Sherissa Hernandez
Adult Programming Assistant

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