When reading a book or any piece of literature, the background of the reader plays a significant role in how they perceive the work. Two readers with different viewpoints and backgrounds will naturally have differing opinions and interpretations of the same writing. For instance, a feminist lens and a Marxist lens offer contrasting perspectives. Through a feminist lens, one would observe any instances where men and women are not treated equally or where women are portrayed as more dependent. On the other hand, a Marxist lens would analyze everything in terms of power dynamics, considering hierarchy and importance. In Zora Neale Hurston’s novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, individuals with a feminist lens and a Marxist lens would interpret the same situations in distinct ways.
When Janie moved to Eatonville with her husband, Joe Starks, he became the mayor, making Janie the first lady. During a celebration of Joe’s accomplishment, Janie was asked to give a speech. However, Joe declined the offer before Janie had the chance. A feminist would interpret this as Joe speaking on behalf of his wife due to the perception that women lacked strength to speak for themselves during that time in history. Women were often considered emotional and unintelligent, so their husbands would speak for them. A Marxist perspective would view Joe’s actions as a subliminal message asserting his control and dominance over Janie. By not allowing her to reject the offer herself and making decisions on her behalf, Joe implied that she held no power or agency.
Janie’s long hair was a significant part of her identity and symbolized her power. It distinguished her from others and she took pride in it. However, while she was with Joe Starks, she was only permitted to wear her hair down at home, and had to wear it in a rag outside. A feminist would view this as Janie conforming to traditional expectations of women being modest. They would also see it as Joe exerting control over Janie and her submissively complying with societal norms placed upon wives. This is evident when the men in their town comment on Janie’s hair without any objection. From a Marxist perspective, this situation signifies Joe’s desire to assert dominance over Janie. By dictating how she should style her hair, he diminishes her sense of power while elevating his own.
Throughout their relationship, Joe emotionally and verbally abused Janie, often criticizing her appearance to lower her self-esteem and keep her dependent on him due to his own insecurities. However, there came a point when Janie stood up for herself publicly, which deeply embarrassed Joe. From then on, Janie refused to listen to him and he lost control over her. A feminist perspective would interpret this as Janie breaking free from societal expectations and refusing to be oppressed any longer. As an African American woman, Janie was not allowed to be independent, but she defied these norms and asserted her autonomy, making a powerful statement to Joe and the rest of the community. From a Marxist standpoint, this can be seen as Janie “stripping him of his authority.” After enduring control in the relationship, Janie took charge and became the one with power.
Later on in the book, Tea Cake and Janie have a different relationship compared to her previous relationships. They view each other as equals. However, there is a point in their relationship where Tea Cake physically harms Janie for his personal pleasure. This incident occurs when they reside in the Everglades and Tea Cake realizes another man is interested in Janie. In response, he resorts to violence. In the Everglades, Tea Cake becomes highly regarded by the other men because Janie does not fight back; she only cries, which is uncommon for African American women. Janie is envied by the other women and admired for how Tea Cake nurtures her and treats her kindly when they are seen together after the incident. A feminist perspective would interpret this as male dominance and Janie submitting to Tea Cake once again, as expected due to her respect for him. On the other hand, a Marxist viewpoint would perceive this as Tea Cake asserting his authority to Janie and everyone else, establishing that he controls the relationship and Janie is not going anywhere.
In conclusion, the interpretation of a piece of writing varies depending on the reader’s beliefs. A reader with a feminist perspective would pay more attention to gender roles and stereotypes, while a reader with a marxist viewpoint would analyze power struggles within the text. In Their Eyes Were Watching God, a feminist reader would be disappointed by Janie’s submission to her husbands, as it reflects societal expectations of women being inferior to men. However, they would also appreciate Janie’s eventual equality in the relationship. On the other hand, a marxist reader would find Janie’s tendency to be overpowered by others intriguing but unacceptable. Ultimately, readers’ interpretations of text are shaped by their individual perspectives.