Short analysis of the novel Their Eyes were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

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Their Eyes were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston follows the life of Janie Crawford, an African American woman of black and white heritage, as she describes it to her best friend, Pheoby Watson, in the all-black town of Eatonville, Florida. As a teenager, Janie watches a bee pollinating a flower on a pear tree in her garden and becomes motivated to find true love. The novel catalogs Janie’s emotional and physical growth over the course of her three marriages with Logan Killicks, Joe Starks, and Tea Cake, while bringing to light the conspicuous contrasts of each individual relationship. Through Janie’s determinism and resilience in adversity, Hurston highlights the male and female dichotomy in a society with prevalent male domination, elucidating that the vital elements necessary to shape a person and establish an individual’s identity are the most oppressive and challenging life experiences.

The relation between Janie and Logan reveals the purity of love, an affection that should be cherished, not instilled by force. When Janie’s grandmother, Nanny, mentions that Janie is getting married to Logan, a successful farmer with his own land, Janie feels a sense of repulsion and describes Logan as an “ole skullhead in de grave yard” (Hurston 11). To her, Logan represents the desecration of a blossoming tree, wrinkly skin and ugly looks. However, she soon changes her mind after a “talk” with Nanny and believes “she would love Logan after they were married” (20). After the marriage, Logan force Janie to take part in arduous labor: “Come help me move dis manure pile befo’ de sun gits hot. You don’t take a bit of interest in dis place. ‘Tain’t no use in foolin’ round in dat kitchen all day long’” (29-30). While Janie thinks her proper place in the kitchen, maintaining the household, Logan thinks her place as serving him. Instead of the individual identities established by marriage, Janie is under the complete control of Logan and has no identity other than what he provides her. Logan considers Janie an object that needs to be put to use. As a result, Janie develops the idea that her marriage is a prison cage, confining and limiting her from freedom. Janie’s illusion of a perfect life with unconditional love and the impossibility of Logan to measure up to this illusion weaves an intricate framework that will inevitably lead to disarray.

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The wide discrepancy between Janie Crawford and her second husband, Joe Starks, highlights the necessity of equality rather than domination within a marriage. Janie is at first attracted to Joe due to his dapper appearance and debonair looks, his “shirt with the silk sleeve holders [that were] dazzling enough for the world” (26). Fooled by his fumbuyount semblance, Janie believes she has finally found her happily ever after, but is proved otherwise when she and Joe, as a married couple, set off for the all-black town of Eatonville, where Joe becomes mayor. Joe exhibits a veneer of superiority, but beneath this outward show, Janie discovers that Joe’s dress sense is depictive of his true nature. Joe considers himself supercilious to the people of Eatonville, including Janie, with the power to not only build up a city, but also rule it with his magisterial tyranny. Joe also constrains Janie, making her put up her hair in a head rag and not allowing her to freely express her opinions: “mah wife don’t know nothin’ ’bout speech-makin’… She’s uh woman and her place is in de home” (43) Through his speech in Eatonville, Joe explicitly makes it clear that he regards Janie disdain, as emotionally or physically unequal to him. By speaking on behalf of her, Joe withdraws Janie’s individualistic identity and does not think she is capable of making her own decisions. Not supportive of Janie’s spiritual and personal growth, Joe expects Janie to be a “model wife” without freedom of expression. Taking it no longer, Janie releases her pent up anger on Joe’s deathbed, laying out all of Joe’s “crimes” against her and the rest of Eatonville, but Joe, being the oppressive person he is, does not agree with Janie: “Ah knowed you wasn’t goingtuh listen tuh me. You changes everything but nothin’ don’t change you – not even death. But Ah ain’t goin’ outa here and Ah ain’t gointuh hush.” (96). Speaking against oppression accentuates Janie’s growth from a passive woman to an empowered one. With Joe on his deathbed, Janie seizes the propitious moment to articulate her pent up emotions about Joe’s mistreatment of her, thus eluding societal oppression. Joe’s unceasing desire for power pulls him farther and farther back into the depths of corruption, allowing Janie to realize the fact that marriage is based on equality rather than domination.

Janie’s last marriage with Tea Cake is the complete opposite of all of her previous marriages, emphasizing the definition of true love and a relationship where affection is expressed. Throughout the relationship, Janie is overcome with a deep affection for Tea Cake, feeling a “self-crushing love”(128) that made her soul “crawl out from its hiding place” (128). Before her marriage with Tea Cake, Janie’s soul was pushed into a cramped hiding space, as Janie is not allowed to freely express her thoughts or be herself with Joe. Loving Tea Cake is what finally sets Janie free: she is allowed to let her hair free, socialize, and articulate her thoughts without worry. Due to her exuberant desire to experience life to its fullest, Janie becomes upset when Tea Cake goes to a party without her: “ Looka heah, Tea Cake, if you ever go off from me and have a good time lak dat and then come back heah tellin’ me how nice Ah is, Ah specks tuh kill yuh dead” (124). Though Tea Cake was scared that Janie would be ashamed to make associations those of a lower status, Janie associates Tea Cake’s action as a form of betrayal. From Janie’s subjective perspective, being part of the upper echelon of the elite means a life void of joy and independence. Janie does not care much about being part of the Vieux riche; she just wants to explore the joys of life with her husband. Though previously constructed in her previous marriages, Janie acquires a sense of freedom emotionally and physically, her “ crawling out from its hiding space”. Previously caged from experiencing happiness by Logan and Joe, Janie acquires a glimpse of love with Tea Cake, and attains a sophisticated understanding of life.

In the novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston portrays Janie Crawford as a strong, self-reliant black woman that goes against societal norms as she searches for her unique spot in society. Through her resilience during all of her marriages, Janie takes away a new lesson and and discovers her true identity. This quest to fulfillment is a ubiquitous theme present throughout the novel that can be found through the lessons Janie attains on her adventure: love cannot be forced, marriage means equality, and there is satisfaction in finding true love.

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Short analysis of the novel Their Eyes were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. (2022, Nov 30). Retrieved from

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