spark notes versus the real thing
Here’s spark notes condensing some of the most famous PAGES from Their Eyes Were Watching God: “When Janie is sixteen, she often sits under a blossoming pear tree, deeply moved by the images of fertile springtime.” ARGH. I wonder if whoever wrote that was amused or saddened or in pain at having to stuff two Hurston pages into one boring perfectly ordinary (and sensible) absurdity. Here’s a few lines from the actual novel: “Janie had spent most of the day under a blossoming pear tree in the back yard. She had been spending every minute that she could steal from her chores under that tree for the last three days. That was to say, ever since the first tiny bloom had opened. It had called her to come and gaze on a mystery. From barren brown stems to glistening leaf-buds; from the leaf buds to snowy virginity of bloom. It stirred her tremendously. How? Why? This singing she heard that had nothing to do with her ears. The rose of the world was breathing out smell. It followed her through all her waking moments and caressed her in her sleep. It connected itself with other vaguely felt matters that had struck her outside observation and buried themselves in her flesh. Now they emerged and quested about her consciousness.” This is only Hurston’s warm up to many more paragraphs about Janie and that pear tree. I suppose Janie is “deeply moved by the images of fertile springtime,” but this is not the point, of course. I didn’t quite know how to explain to my students what the point is. Except that plot summaries and Zora Neale Hurston don’t really go together. Reading her is not just about What Happens, it is visceral. But then we all know this, those of us who have read Their Eyes and love it. And we are lucky, I guess. We are also clearly dinosaurs. Soon to be extinct.