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Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston - Book Review

Updated on May 12, 2011

Throughout the novel, Janie Crawford consistently struggled finding her own sense of identity in the world because of the way her world hierarchy functioned. Florida in the late 1800s and early 1900s was still heavily bruised by the mentality and social framework that slavery left behind. White men held they highest position of power, followed by White women, then Black men, and finally Black women. Because of her mixed background and generational newfound freedom, Janie was born into a social quandary. She did not want to be married off like her grandmother wanted, did not want to be put to work by force like Logan wanted, and did not want to be a trophy wife like Jody wanted. The reason Janie wrestled to ascertain her identity was because these were the only roles Black women could fill at the time, so naturally she first felt as though she should, for the most part, fulfill these roles.

Janie first establishes her identity and her own self interests when she addresses her Grandmother on the issue of the arranged marriage to Logan. Janie expresses her disdain and disgust for the man, and proclaims that she does not wish to marry him. Nanny quickly addresses her control by slapping Janie, suppressing any self interest she might have had. Janie then goes through the first stage of her life heavily suppressing her feelings and emotions in failed marriages showing only occasional bursts of her identity. These bursts occurred first when she leaves Logan, and when she stands up to Jody for a lifetime of misogynistic put downs and curses. Neither of these men ever did extensively physically hurt Janie, but they did suppress her individuality as the “New Black Woman” in their marriage. These women were a new generational category of Black women that were strong individuals that wanted to be named for themselves and not for their men or title.

Upon meeting Tea Cake, Janie begins the next stage of her life through transformation. “All gods dispense suffering without reason. Otherwise they would not be worshipped. Through indiscriminate suffering men know fear and fear is the most divine emotion. It is the stones for altars and the beginning of wisdom. Half gods are worshipped in wine and flowers. Real gods require blood.” (p. 145) Janie’s first stage of transfiguration was completed because she had suffered from sexual unhappiness with Logan, a suppressed voice from Jody, and the feeling of jealousy from Nunkie. Her second stage was completed with her discovery of fear at two distinct points. First, with her intense experience of fear when her, Tea Cake and Motorboat were trying to wait out the hurricane in the abandoned house. Second, when Tea Cake had fired all the blank shots in the pistol and was down to a real bullet pointing at Janie. Janie finally passes on to the last stage of her self discovery in finding her own self worth through blood. She shoots Tea Cake to save her own life.

She began with marrying for the sake of her grandmother, then marries on her own accord but suffers at the hands of her second husband Jody through suppressed voice, and finally endures a beating from Tea Cake because she loves him and understands that he wants marital control. However, when threatened with her life, she finally decides to take decisive action and reestablishes her identity as a god of her own destiny. “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.” (p. 184) She had become her own woman and now wanted others to know it as well. When sitting in the courtroom on trial for Tea Cake’s murder, it is interesting to note that “It was not death she feared. It was misunderstanding.” (p. 188) She now possessed the idea of being known in the world individually. Like the mentioned in the beginning, she had “sailed forever on the horizon” (p. 1) and came back. A remarkably compelling novel of self discovery and existentialism that well forever stand the test of time. After all, Janie is now a "god".


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      Alexander Thandi Ubani 6 years ago from Lagos

      A strong, tasteful and interesting story. I love it