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A Perspective on Their Eyes Were Watching God

Updated on November 8, 2014

Janie's Quest

Janie’s life is presented to the reader as being interwoven with nature. “Janie saw her life like a great tree in leaf with the things suffered, things enjoyed, things done and undone. Dawn and doom was in the branches” (Hurston 8). Here Hurston illustrates to the reader that Janie’s life is representative of a tree that has seen many facets of life including love and pain. The pear tree is a representation of true love to Janie. Logan Killicks represents the obliteration of true love. Observe: “The vision of Logan Killicks was desecrating the pear tree, but Janie did not know how to tell Nanny that” (14). In her interaction with Joe Starks, “Janie pulled back a long time because he did not represent pollen and blooming trees, but spoke for far horizon” (Hurston 29). Hurston takes the earthen beauty of blooming trees and their pollen to represent, again, the true love that Janie is seeking in a world that tells her that such a love is not accessible to the Black woman. The world tells her to accept what is as it is because it is her natural plight, her natural place. Janie is at odds with herself, and this internal conflict manifests itself in her interaction with Joe Starks. Joe does not represent what is; however, he represents what could be. Janie has to find a way to see through the clouds of what is in order to connect to the sun that could be on the horizon in relation to Joe Starks.

In the novel, Hurston illustrates women in comparison to mules. Janie’s grandmother tells her “De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see. Ah been prayin’ fuh it tuh be different wid you” (Hurston 14). Here Hurston explicates on the plight of Black women under the control of Black men who have historically been influenced by slavery and the desperate clinging to the slave state of being by White society. Janie’s grandmother brings Janie up in the faith that life will be different for her; however, in view of the state of women that she observes in her golden years, her faith is shotty. The mule is a natural animal of labor, meant to work in the sense of carrying the necessary loads of the world.

Will True Love Ever be Found?

Janie will never be able to give herself to true love until she learns to appreciate who she is and accept her independence. She struggles with dependence and independence. This is apparent in her interaction with her husbands when they require her to work. For instance, she does not want to work in the store for Joe. But does this mean that she does not want to work, or does this mean that him forcing her to work is taking away from her independence? Janie has a conflict within herself in accepting the societal definition of marriage at the time. “She knew now that marriage did not make love. Janie’s first dream was dead, so she became a woman” (Hurston 25). Janie could not accept that becoming a woman meant giving up who she is or any dreams that she has. It is this conflict within herself that causes the problems in her marriages. Without knowing it, her Nanny may have been the one to implant this seed of the doubt regarding societal constraints. She gives the reader evidence of this when she tells Janie that she had hoped that it would be different for her. Nanny’s behavior with Janie as she is growing up may have given Janie a ray of hope, and when Nanny gives up this hope of a better life for Jannie, she, Janie, is not able to despell the hope that she her grandmother fostered within her.

Janie does not love Logan or Joe. When she enters into these relationships, she is in essence running from something in her life. In Logan’s case, she is running from disappointing her grandmother; observe: “Have some sympathy fuh me. Put me down easy, Janie, Ah'm a cracked plate” (Hurston 20). Janie does not want her grandmother to leave the earth without knowing she will be taken care of, and this is the reason she agrees to marry Logan Killicks. Logan does not turn out to be the protector that her grandmother thought he would. Janie turns out to be a work mule for him, and he begins to take her for granted. He becomes unable to show desire for Janie; in other words, the romance leaves. The novelty wears off, and he feels that Janie should be more grateful to him for saving her from a poverty stricken life. Their relationship essentially ends when Janie tells him that she could leave. Killicks cannot see past his own pride and basically tells her to go. In Joe’s case, she is running from Logan. Janie thinks that she is running to a better life, but she runs into the arms of another insecure, uncaring man. Joe begins to age, and while doing so, finds it necessary to attack Janie’s appearance. He needs to attack Janie’s security in order to feed his own insecurity. Some say that one can learn to love someone. In both cases, this may have been possible if her first two husbands had learned to love all of her; however, her first two husbands did not have the foresight or wisdom to see through the impression that society has on their interaction with their wife. Janie is on a journey for self-fulfillment from the first marriage to the last as she should be given the age she is when she initially gets married; however, the perception of this journey for self-fulfillment is viewed as a White woman’s journey. This is not the journey of a Black women. The plight of the Black woman is seen as that of mere survival and living for her husband. The perception of the Black women who venture to feed their own souls for the sake of their own spirituality, outside of religion, is seen as selfish and White woman like. “You thinks youse white folks by the way you act” (Hurston 26). Logon makes this comment to assert that Janie wants too much out of life. Being the strong Black woman does not entail doing for self most of the time; this title means that one sacrifices for the greater good of all around her. This sacrifice could mean giving up any hope of happiness for the benefit of her husband or children, and within the context of the sacrifice of self usually comes the sacrifice of the physical self as well. Those women who sacrifice the physical self as well usually begin to look run down and beat up at an early age, but Janie just did not fit this mold. Joe starks knows that she does not fit the mold, and in reaction to his attempt to mentally tear her down, he attacks her looks. However, this is not the first attempt that he makes at attacking her, so his attack on her mental state simply is not good enough to conquer Janie’s spirit. She reacts to him with the following: “Naw, Ah ain't no young gal no mo' but den Ah ain't no old woman neither. Ah reckon Ah looks mah age too. But Ah'm uh woman ebery inch of me, and Ah know it. Dat's uh whole lot more'n you kin say. You big-bellies round here and put out a log of brag, but 'tain't nothin' to it but you' big voice. Humph! Talkin' 'bout me lookin' old! When you pull down yo' briches, you look lak de change uh life” (Hurston 79). Here another man challenges Janie’s security, and when men challenge her security, the relationship does not end well. In many senses Janie is dependent on these men; however, this is a limited dependence because she is not afraid to relieve herself of their presence.

Zora Neale Hurston


Love is Disappointing

One thing that Janie is able to avoid in these relationships is becoming a completely hardened human being. This is evident in her reaction to Joe’s death. Observe: “Dis sittin' in de rulin' chair is been hard on Jody,’ she muttered out loud. she was full of pity for the first time in years. Jody had been hard on her and others, but life had mishandled him too” (Hurston 87). Even in considering his mistreatment of her, Janie is able to sympathize with and mourn for Joe. Janie also expresses that she does not want to bicker with Joe in his final hours, but he wants to be bitter with her up to the very end. She may have indulged him, but she does express that this is not of her own choosing.


Alone or Lonely

Janie has to experience being alone in order to come into her true being. The freedom that she seeks all her life is not found in the arms of a man; it is found in having the time to be alone and find out who she really is. In essence, Joe’s death serves a purpose. “Tain't dat Ah worries over Joe's death, Phoeby. Ah jus’ loves dis freedom” (Hurston 93). She is no longer bound to a controlling relationship which gives her the time to find herself and her freedom. She truly is not ready for a true love before now. Then the reader sees how simultaneously loving and cruel life can be because the reader witnesses Janie falling in true love with Tea Cake and having to take his life. Observe: “It was the meanest moment of eternity. A minute before she was just a scared human being fighting for its life. Now she was her sacrificing self with Tea Cake’s head in her lap. She had wanted him to live so much and he was dead. No hour is ever eternity, but it has its right to weep” (Hurston 184). The best thing about her relationship with Tea Cake is that she continues to grow as a person, and the word marriage appears to be the least important with them. In the other two marriages, the role of the woman is offered up and mentioned in various situations as a means of control. Unfortunately, a rabid dog bites Tea Cake, and he develops rabies. In the later stages of the disease, Janie’s life is in danger, and she is forced to shoot her love. This is not a love that comes to fruition by adhering to societal standards; it just comes to be because two people love each other. This is something that she has searched for all her life, and she is forced to be the one to end it as she is forced to end her first relationship with Killicks. The aspect of nature that is so intricately implanted in her life is the very cause of Tea Cake’s demise. It would appear as though she has come full circle and ends where she started. However, this is not the case, for now she can live on knowing that at one point in her life she experiences true love, a love that would not allow her to see fault. She does not have to continue searching for anything. She can simply live with the happiness of her memories of this true love.

Nature's Call for Respect

The hurricane is a destructive natural force that warrants respect. While it will obliterate everything in its path, it is a pungent show of the power of nature and considered one of God’s creations regardless of its destructive intent. The respect that it commands is ignored by Tea Cake because of his love for monetary gain; however, when Janie and Tea Cake see the hurricane, that warranted respect instantly zaps its way back into their lives. Janie is hopelessly in love with Tea Cake, and to her, this is true love. However, nature has a way of removing that which is not necessarily good. The fact that Janie loves Tea Cake so much plays a factor in what she is willing to do to keep him. Part of keeping him means forgiving him for beating her; regardless of the love that she has for him, this is not good for her. She is so entrenched in nature, and the balance of nature is upset. Of course, her other husbands treated her unkind at times as well; however, she did not love them as she does Tea Cake. This kind of love has the power to destroy all that she has struggled to become. Does Tea Cake act out of character when he beats Janie? It does not matter; he has upset the balance. He does not deserve the true love that Janie has to give, and natures says he must go. Because of the upset balance of nature, Janie and Tea Cake see God and all his or her glory interwoven in this strong showing of nature. The notion of monetary gain is instantly swept away, and the respect that they have lost with regard to nature on their journey away from their cultural roots is instantly reintroduced into their lives. This would not have been a path that Tea Cake would need to go down if he wanted to remain compatible with Janie. This path of capitalistic gain is one that is evident in her previous husbands as well. Although nature is interwoven in the novel, the hurricane encompasses the strongest representation of nature along with the obliteration of all that would prove to destroy a true love that is in essence poison to a true believer in nature, Janie.

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God: A Novel. New York: Perennial Library, 1990. Print.

Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God Audiobook


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