A popular literary paradigm suggests that a reader never judge a book by its cover. The reasoning for this is that the cover can be misleading. A book can be plain and boring on the exterior but incredibly entertaining in the interior. Conversely, a book can have a beautifully illustrated cover but a terrible story line and plot. The same philosophy can be applied to the title of a work. Some titles are excellent indicators of the story told within, while others are quite the opposite. The Awakening by Kate Chopin and Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston are examples of books which absolutely failed to convey the general nature of their novels to me.
Immediately after hearing the title of The Awakening, my first thought was that we were going to read an interesting science fiction novel about resurrecting a long dead monster or evil power. I pictured a fast paced action thriller involving the mummy of a pharaoh from ancient Egypt being awoken from the dead to wreak havoc on his humble population. I considered the possibility of someone being cryogenically frozen and being woken up many years later, realizing that the world is no longer as he remembered it, much to his chagrin. Comedy would ensue as he tried to fit in and understand the new world into which he was thrown. While my mind was on cryogenics, it wandered to a plot involving space travel to the final frontier. I imagined humans waking from their slumber after a decade long cryo-sleep on their way to distant planets, possibly by some alien species. As you can see, I had high hopes for The Awakening, and I was banking on this book to be my savior in a land of bland and uninteresting novels.
However, as you can imagine, my dreams were broken and crushed, for The Awakening was about none of these things. As I began to read, I saw that it was not a physical awakening, but a mental and sexual one. My disappointment was great when I found that Edna Pontellier is not a super-human cyborg, extraterrestrial alien, nor even a blood thirsty zombie. Instead, she is an average, albeit overtly depressing, woman who falls in love with a man who is not her husband. However, I had not given up all hope yet. I still thought to myself that a plot focusing on a woman’s promiscuity would be highly entertaining. I figured that a story where a woman finally realizes that she possesses the ability to have sexual fun and feel lustful passion must be interesting. Of course, I was again denied this joy, and in the end, The Awakening made me feel similar to how Edna felt at the end of the novel, without the stripping naked and walking into the sea to drown, however.
I found Their Eyes Were Watching God to be opposite in the way that its title conveyed its idea. Whereas I thought that The Awakening was going to be an awesome novel and was highly disappointed, I assumed that Their Eyes Were Watching God was going to be incessantly boring, yet I was pleasantly surprised. My first thought when I heard about Their Eyes Were Watching God was that it was a book about religious white people. I can’t give any specific reason why I pictured white people, but none the less I imagined a small crowd standing in a church or house looking up to heaven asking questioningly why “this” was happening to them. Although I did not have any idea what “this” was, I figured it would probably be the topic of the novel. I assumed that Hurston and her novel were going to be obnoxiously preachy. Thankfully, however, this was not so.
As I later came to see, the eyes of the main characters in this novel were not looking up at God in hope or respect, but rather in fear. They didn’t even so much as look at God himself, but more accurately, they looked at what God had created, and what he was doing to their homes. They were looking out the window at the destructive and dangerous hurricane which was ruining their land. On a different note, I believe that this title is unfaithful to the gist of the novel for another reason as well. Whereas the entire focus of The Awakening is Edna’s awakening, there is only a very small portion of the book (in fact, it’s only mentioned in passing) which talks about their eyes actually watching God.
Generally speaking, it is very difficult to make a prediction on a book simply based on its title. As can be seen by the two books I chose to select, I am not very good at it, and the first impressions that I had at the outset were altered tremendously. It is very sad that this is the nature of book titles, because I could easily foresee a situation where a person would be stuck choosing between a book like The Awakening, which sounds like it has so much promise, and Their Eyes Were Watching God, which is legitimately a good book, and mistakenly picking The Awakening. When this is no longer the case, it will be a beautiful day for literature.