Themes

 

 

Love and Relationships versus Independence

 

Janie spends most of the book searching for true love as a sense of fulfillment. She marries her first husband, Logan, out of respect for her grandmother with the hopes that love will develop between them; unfortunately, her quest is not fulfilled in this marriage. This allows Jody to come and sweep her away. In the beginning of her marriage to Jody she feels that she might have found what she was searching for, but as Jody comes to power in the town he changes. He becomes obsessed with himself and his appearance to others. He begins to treat Janie as inferior and, in a sense, uses her as his workhorse. This obliterates her quest for equality with him and causes resentment between them. Jody is appalled by Janie’s stubbornness, and this causes him to treat Janie even worse. After Jody’s death, Janie begins to find a true sense of herself. She begins to learn the concept of independence. During her quest for independence, Tea Cake starts to come around. He pursues Janie tirelessly. Janie is reluctant to entertain his advances mostly because of their age difference. With time Janie escapes her stubbornness and becomes interested in and involved with Tea Cake. She finally finds the fulfillment, security, equality, and independence she had spent the majority of her life searching for. Despite Janie’s wealth, she chooses to live a humble life with Tea Cake allowing him to support her. Janie and Tea Cake do suffer trials and tribulations, but their undying love for each other allows them to endure. Janie finds this fulfillment just to have it taken away from her after the hurricane. Through Janie’s personal quest she felt love and relationships were the key to contentment. Ironically, in the end of the story she is alone yet she is obviously content. She finds more fulfillment through the completion of her spiritual quest and her new-found independence.

 

 

Racism

 

Although this book is set in a time and place where racism was prevalent, it is not a central theme of the story. It does, without doubt, play a role in the book, and it influences many situations. This book reveals many paradoxes in relation to race. It reflects situations that most people do not realize occurred during this time. For example, in Chapter 16, Janie talks to Mrs. Turner who is a black woman. Mrs. Turner identifies her racist views towards those who are “blacker than her”. She also expresses her feelings of inferiority to those who are “whiter than her” but still black. Another paradox is revealed in the courtroom. The white women are sympathetic towards Janie, while the blacks scorn her. Race, in this book, is more about culture than genetics. The African Americans are identified more by their way of life than by their skin color. Race can be compared to the hurricane. It is just another force that Janie cannot control and prevents her from having harmony with her fellow beings and the world around her.

 

 

 

Religion and Folklore

 

God obviously plays a significant role in Their Eyes Were Watching God; however, it is not the traditional God that we expect it to be. In this book, God is diffused throughout everything. This is particularly evident in Hurston’s continual personification of nature. “At various times, the sun, moon, sky, sea, horizon, and other aspects of the natural world appear imbued with divinity. The God in the title refers to these divine forces throughout the world, both beautiful and threatening, that Janie encounters (Spark Notes).” Janie’s quest is labeled as spiritual because of her battle with these forces and her goals of learning who she is and finding her place in the world. Despite the constant influence of spirituality, organized religion almost never appears in the novel. The different elements of spirituality are representative of black rural culture in the South.

 

Language and Voice

 

Throughout Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston alternates between passages of educated narrative prose and first-person passages in the colorful, rural dialect of her characters. But despite this curious polarity, Hurston manages to weave her two voices together into a seamless and poetic whole. Language does not only shape the novel's form; it also provides an important metaphor for Janie's development into a powerful, independent woman. Their Eyes Are Watching God may be described as the story of Janie's quest for a voice in her community.

All through the novel, speech is related to power. Particularly significant is the relationship between Janie and Joe Starks. Joe is a powerful and power-hungry man, with the dominant voice in the community. He wants Janie merely as a decoration to his high position. After he has been elected mayor of Eatonville, a member of the community suggests "uh few words uh encouragement from Mrs. Mayor Starks." (p 43) But Hurston continues: "The burst of applause was cut short by Joe taking the floor himself. 'Thank yuh fuh yo' compliments, but mah wife don't know nothin' 'bout no speech-makin'. Ah never married her for nothin' lak dat.'...Joe spoke out without giving her a chance to say anything one way or another..." As the story progresses, Janie becomes increasingly interested in a voice of her own. She listens to the word-games that the men play and longs to join in herself. But for a long time, Janie subdues her voice, submitting to Joe's domineering ways. "No matter what Jody did, Janie said nothing. She had learned how to talk some and leave some. She was a rut in the road. Plenty of life left in her, but it was kept beaten down by the wheels." (p 77) When Janie finally speaks out, humiliating Joe in his store in front of the men, it marks the beginning of Janie's acquisition of power. Joe's death follows soon after--he no longer has much will to live after being publicly humiliated--and Janie is set free to develop her voice. Her newfound power and independence give her the strength to marry Tea Cake for love, despite the town's disapproval.

Zora Neale Hurston wrote Their Eyes Were Watching God in the form of a story: Janie telling her friend about her life. At the point when the book opens, Janie is a mature and confident woman. At the end of her story, Janie's words have had a powerful effect on her friend. "'Lawd!' Pheoby breathed out heavily, 'Ah done growed ten feet higher from jus' listenin' tuh you, Janie. Ah ain't satisfied wid mahself no mo'." Janie encourages Pheoby to tell her story to the community. She tells her that "Talkin' don't amount tuh uh hill uh beans when yuh can't do nothin' else...Two things everybody's got tuh do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin' fuh theyselves." (p 192) Janie has "gone tuh God". She has "found out about livin'". She has developed a voice of strength and beauty.

 

Love and Relationships versus Independence, Racism, and Religion and Folklore by Kristyn Roberts, 2005

Language and Voice by Emily Kendall, 2005