Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

May 19, 2008
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In 1937 Zora Neale Hurston created Their Eyes Were Watching God, a somewhat autobiographical novel depicting the life of Janie Crawford as she searches for freedom. Janie was born in the late 1800's and was raised by her traditional grandmother, Nanny. Like Hurston herself, Janie lives in Eatonville, Florida, the first African-American town in America, but later moves to the Everglades. After three marriages and a lifetime of struggles, Janie finds her “voice”. Through independence most women learn the importance of spiritual and intimate relationships. Janie's independence is developed by conflicts within her relationships and highlighted with graphic figurative language.

Because Nanny maintains that “De n***** woman is de mule uh de world…” (14), she marries Janie off to Logan Killicks, despite the fact that Janie has no affection for the man. Nanny's motive for allowing this union was to provide comfort and stability for Janie. Because of her background of slavery, Nanny has never experienced independence and does not understand the value of a relationship based on love and mutual respect. Janie, consequently, does indeed become Logan's “mule,” stopping his sweet-talk once under his authority—“you done been spoilt rotten,” (26) he declares whenever his orders begin. Despite the fact that Logan treated her like one of the livestock, he at least provided for her basic needs and thought she should be grateful for that security. Janie nevertheless longed for beauty and love, growing increasingly discontent with being Logan's “mule.”

Janie's next relationship begins when she leave Logan Killicks for the charming, manipulative Joes Starks who led her to believe that “from now on until death she was going to have flower dust and springtime sprinkled over everything” (32). Joe lured her with promises of fine things: candies, fruit, beautiful clothes, and trinkets. At the beginning Janie was in awe of Joe's charisma and great ambitions, not realizing that he did not love her but wanted her as a trophy to enhance his political plan. As Joe brutalized Janie, she seemed to loose her independent spirit. There was “plenty of life beneath the surface, but it was kept beaten down by the wheels” (76). The life seemed to leave her face. As he ages and declines in physical strength and attractiveness, Joe beats Janie down by telling her that she had lost her beauty and was no longer desirable. Ironically, when Joe dies, Janie feels liberated, not bereaved: “ She sent her face to Joe's funeral, and herself went rollicking with the springtime across the world” (88). After the funeral the “ flower dust and springtime” were to become a reality and not a deceptive lure.

Janie's third significant relationship begins as she tends to the store that she inherited as Joe's widow. At first Tea Cake, a fun loving customer in the store is a younger friend who challenges her to games of checkers, but the friendship develops into love, to the disappointment of the townspeople, who considered Tea Cake not to be her equal. For the first time Janie is loved for herself. As a consequence, Janie leaves the respected position and security she had wanted before for true love. They depart for the everglades. Janie still doubts her ability to hold Tea Cake, but he reassures her: “Nobody else on earth kin hold uh candle tuh you, baby. You got de keys to de kingdom.” (109). There relationship is mutual and fulfilling but short-lived. Despite Tea Cake's tragic death, their love brings Janie to a newfound independence.

Ultimately, each of the men with whom Janie had a relationship contributed to her growth in self-knowledge and eventual independence. As Janie concludes her story she realized, “Here was peace. She pulled in her horizon like a great fishnet” (193). The experiences she endured opened up endless possibilities and opportunities for the future. Through suffering, disillusionment, and the joy of mutual love, Janie becomes a woman of significance.





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