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This Might Be The Best Opening In Literature

Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others, they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.

That opening from Their Eyes Were Watching God is one of the best openings in literature.

The rhythm and pacing of ZNH’s sentences, the truthfulness and conviction in what she’s saying. It’s just a beautiful opening, I think.

And it sets the stage for the entire novel, along with this second paragraph.

Now, women forget all the things they don’t want to remember, and remember all the things they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.

Quite a contrast of description in those two opening paragraphs.

And they do an excellent job of setting the stage for Their Eyes Were Watching God. Such a beautifully written book.

More to come about this classic.

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14 Comments Post a comment
  1. deweydecimalsbutler #

    I’ve given that opening as a response prompt before and gotten some interesting thoughts. What astounds me about her writing is that every section is like this – just beautifully crafted prose. I could probably take any sentence she writes and reformat it to a poem only by creating line breaks, and it would be gorgeous.

    Ships at a distance
    have every man’s
    wish
    on board.
    For some they come in with the tide.
    For others, they sail forever on the horizon,
    never out of sight,
    never landing
    until the Watcher turns his eyes away
    in resignation,
    his dreams mocked to death
    by Time.
    That is the life of men.

    Like

    February 20, 2014
    • Great interpretation. That’s really good. And, you’re right, it shows the poetic nature of her writing.

      Like

      February 21, 2014
  2. Oh, those are good! Can’t wait to hear more about this book. Thanks for sharing!

    Like

    February 20, 2014
  3. Reblogged this on poetrytales and commented:
    Ouch!

    Like

    February 20, 2014
  4. Their Eyes Were Watching God has been on my “to read” list for a long time, and this post makes me want to read it even more. So beautiful.

    Like

    February 20, 2014
  5. Wow.

    Like

    February 20, 2014
  6. You’re reminding me just how much I loved this book so long ago. Gotta go find it on the shelf.

    Like

    February 20, 2014
  7. Reblogged this on The Imperfections and commented:
    This is my favorite novel of all time. Always has been, always will be. Not only is Hurston’s writing beautiful, her prose captures the very essence of ‘the woman’, on becoming a woman.

    Like

    February 20, 2014
  8. Lovely way to open a novel. Definitely makes you want to read more.

    Like

    February 20, 2014
  9. i definitely need to read this! 🙂

    Like

    February 20, 2014
  10. Agreed. It’s one of my favorite opening lines, too.

    Like

    February 21, 2014
  11. I have this book queued up to (finally!) read in March. These opening passages make me look forward to a beautiful read. They drew me right in!

    Like

    February 23, 2014
  12. Florence King’s “Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady”

    There are ladies everywhere, but they enjoy generic recognition only in the South. There is a New England old maid, but not a New England lady. There is a Midwestern farm wife, but not a Midwestern lady. There most assuredly is a California girl, but if anyone spoke of a California lady, even Phil Donahue and Alan Alda would laugh.

    If you wish to understand the American woman, study the Southern woman. The sweetening process that feminists call “socialization” is simply a less intense version of what goes on in every Southern family. We call it “rearing.” If the rearing was done successfully, it results in that perfection of femininity known as a lady.

    I was reared.

    [The prologue ends with:]

    Whether she succeeded in making a lady out of me is for you to decide, but I will say one thing in my own favor before I begin.

    No matter which sex I went to bed with, I never smoked on the street.

    Like

    March 4, 2014

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