Title: Their Eyes Were Watching God Essay, Research Paper
AP Book Report
1. Title: Their Eyes Were Watching God
2. Author and Date Written: Zora Neale Hurston; 1937
3. Country of Author: America
4. Major Characters:
Janie, the protagonist of the novel, is described as powerful, articulate, self-reliant, and radically different. She is a very strong woman, both mentally and physically. She also is a very beautiful woman, adored by many. The novel follows her around throughout the course of the novel and the reader witnesses her progression throughout her life. Janie struggles to discover herself, and spends the entire novel trying to find happiness and what it is that she wants.
Tea Cake, a man very much younger than Janie, becomes her third husband. He is a very kind and sweet man in his courtship of Janie, allowing her to win at Chess and not harming her in any way. He is very much a flirt. But after the two are married, Tea Cake changes a little bit. At one point he beats Janie, only to show that she is still his possession. Janie loves him through it all, however, so that when Tea Cake passes away, she is grieving too much to wear the mourning clothes.
Joe Starks is the man who is Janie s second husband. At her first sight of him, she is curious, for he is described as a cityfied, stylish dressed man . It is this curiosity that drives Janie to meet him. Joe knows exactly what it is he wants in life. He tells Janie that he wishes to be a big voice and the boss in the soon to be Eatonville. He believes that women should be seen and not heard, which he applies to Janie. Janie is to act her part as Mrs. Mayor. Joe is a very jealous man. He will not allow Janie to wear her hair down, for he sees the pleasure that the other men take in it, and he wants to be the only man who can enjoy it.
4. Minor Characters:
Pheoby plays the part of Janie s best friend in Eatonville. She is trusting and loyal, a good listener and a true friend. Janie wishes to use her as a voice to all the busybodies in the town, telling the true story for Janie.
Logan Killicks is the first to marry Janie. Janie believes that she will find love and happiness in marriage, but she is greatly mistaken. Logan Killicks is a working man. He inwardly wishes for his wife to do work, too. So when he buys a second mule, which he means for Janie to use, she won t take it anymore. Janie s marriage to him transforms her from a na ve girl of seventeen, to a woman who has begun to know exactly what it is that she wants.
Nanny is Janie s grandmother. Nanny raises Janie after Janie s parents take off. Nanny is glad to raise Janie, calling it her second chance to do something right. Nanny prays often to God for the well-being of Janie. She is a church-going person, dragging Janie along a few times. Nanny wants Janie to get herself up into a high position and stay there, but since Janie gets there so fast, she doesn t like it at all. In Janie s first marriage, Nanny tells her that she doesn t have to have love, just protection.
In the story that Janie tells Pheoby, Janie s birthplace is the first setting. Janie was born in northern Florida and raised with the white children that her Nanny worked for. Although there are two opposing races, they harmonically play and get along together. It is here that Janie grows up with her grandma and lives with her first husband, Logan Killicks. It is here that Janie first learns of life as she sits beneath the pear tree. Although Janie didn t like her grandma that much, this place will always be her home. Instilled upon the reader is a feeling of security and warmth in such a place.
Eatonville is where Joe Starks take Janie. It is an all black growing city, and that is why Joe wishes to join the growing effort. Eatonville is located to the south and east of where Janie was born and raised. The citizens soon make Joe their mayor, the goal that he has wished to fulfill. But in this place, Janie isn t happy. She must play the part of Mrs. Mayor, but it doesn t fit her. Although she has such a high position, she isn t respected. She is looked on by people as beautiful, but as to respect, she doesn t get it. In Eatonville, the reader is unsure. Although the main characters are among their own kind and are leaders of their peers, the people come to be tired of Joe and tired of his ways. This creates a sense of insecurity, with a possibility that mutiny could occur. However, as soon as Joe is gone, the people make it their business to intrude upon Janie s life.
The muck becomes the home of Janie and Tea Cake. He takes her there so that he can earn money to support her, not wanting to live off of her money. Janie is no longer in a high position, but the people and Tea Cake are still unsure if she will join them in the fields, dressed in overalls instead of dresses. On the muck, Janie is respected and adored by her fellow workers as she joins the work force to be close to her beloved husband. Although the name of the place refers to it as a God-forsaken place near the wet Everglades, it is a place that the reader truly feels comfortable in, as does Janie. She becomes what her second husband would never have allowed her to become. She gains her freedom and rids her hair of the head rag. She is truly happy with Tea Cake and loves him very much.
6. Brief Plot Summary:
Set in the time when the slaves had only been liberated for a number of years, the people work to keep themselves alive and to establish themselves as a respected people. In this time, Janie, the main character, makes her life in the Southern state of Florida. As events occur in the novel, the reader sees the changes it wroughts upon Janie. Janie progresses from a na ve girl into a knowledgeable woman, learning much from her three marriages. It isn t until the third marriage to Tea Cake that she gets it right and finds her true happiness. She attains her goals of going tuh God, and [going] tuh find out about livin fuh theyselves.
Throughout the novel, Janie progresses and grows, striving to become independent, find her voice, discover the world, and to find out what marriage is really all about. She can be seen as a female hero on a quest. Throughout the course of the story, the reader sees Janie grow and develop in many different ways.
Janie becomes independent and finds her own voice. In her first two marriages, as her husbands work at upward mobility, allowing Janie to speak and think less and less, Janie struggles to make a life for herself and be able to freely speak. When she does, she realizes that sometimes it is actually best not to always say your mind.
In her quest, Janie wishes to discover the world for herself. As she continues throughout her life, Janie, instead of attempting to become less of her heritage, emerges deeper and deeper into the South, into Black tradition. This is why she and Mrs. Turner don t mix well. Janie has no desire to better the cause for black women, but instead she turns to herself, wishing to establish her ownself.
By the time she has become a woman with her desired traits, she has found the right husband. She finally finds the happiness in marriage that she always dreamed about. Just as the pear tree bloomed, so did Janie. All these developments allowed Janie to tell Pheoby what it is that woman must do for themselves. She says that They got tuh goo tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin fuh theyselves . These goals are what Janie completes as she ends her quest and becomes an independent woman, full of self-realization.
Janie s hair and the way she wears it is a symbol of her freedom. When she is married to Joe Starks, she is unable to allow her hair to flow freely. Instead, she is mandated to tie it up within a head rag, for the purposes of her jealous husband. She has a beautiful head of hair, but is unable to show it off. Her husband wants her as an adornment, but she is unable to adorn herself to make up for his faults. However, when Joe dies and later when she is married to Tea Cake, she removes her head rag and lets her beautiful hair show. She is able to do what she desires within this marriage. If she wishes to hunt, fish, tell jokes, wear overalls, work in the fields, she is able to. She is allowed the freedoms to which she was denied by Joe.
The mule is a double symbol. In one way women are the mules of the world, as nanny puts it. In Janie s relationship with Logan Killicks, he wishes her to work like a mule and obediently do everything that he wishes of her. However, later when in Eatonville, the villagers joke about a man s mule that is overworked, tired, emaciated, and old. This mule is a symbol of what the black people used to be as they toiled, slaves in the fields. The black people make fun of it, tease it, but they still wish it could just rest. As slaves, the Negroes worked hard to serve their uncaring masters. The mule s master is completely uncaring, wishing to work the poor brute to death.
The pear tree signifies where Janie s innocence becomes knowledge of the world. Sitting beneath its limbs, Janie observes the world around her, discovering what life is all about. She becomes in tune with nature realizing what it is that goes on. It is here that she becomes a dreamy, passionate girl, not quite understanding the world of people in her day. She only knows what it is that she wants to get out of life. It isn t until she is forced to marry that her dreams are dashed and she becomes a woman of the world.
9. Significant Imagery:
saw the sun plunge into the same crack in the earth from which the night emerged. Through excellent diction and a creative way of putting things, the writer allows an image to form within the mind of the reader. In the mind s eye, a vivid, tangerine-colored, blazing sun is pictured as it slowly wanes, disappearing beyond the horizon. Such wonderful description makes books without pictures contain pictures that the reader conjures up himself.
Another passage that invokes great imagery is when Tea Cake must save Janie from drowning and the rabid dog. Hurston words the experience as Tea Cake opening his knife as he dived. Slicing through the water is the picture that is created by this passage. Imagery is a very effective tool used by talented authors. As with comparisons, the author must use items that the reader is able to relate to. Hurston does this very well.
10. Title Significance:
During the great hurricane the people, scared out of their minds, had nothing else to do, but wonder what the great plan of God was and if it was destiny that they should be destroyed. Before Janie, Tea Cake, and Motor leave the house, they lie, petrified, on the floor and their six eyes were questioning God . Although they seem to be staring at nothing into the dark, their eyes were watching God . The people in this novel aren t all that religious. Nanny would pray to God and passed a little spirituality down to Janie. But for the rest of the people, most just took His name in vain. It isn t until times are really tough where they may meet their Creator that they turn to him. Throughout the novel, Janie does go to God, never being fully taught exactly what to do. She becomes a part of nature, a part of His creations. The people around her, however, do nothing of the sort.
11. Author s Techniques:
The technique of personification is used by Hurston to make awesome descriptions. Death had to take him like it found him. In this example, the author is personifying Death, allowing it to be thought of and conceived as a person. Death has come to take the overworked mule away in this very creative way. Another instance where the technique is utilized is when the mule is completely dead and the buzzards have congregated about his body. The buzzards begin to talk and act as thought they are people, responding to their leader, the Parson. Personification is a very effective tool used by talented writers, enhancing descriptions and their works.
One technique that is definitely not forsaken is the use of similes. The entire novel is chalked full of them. As Janie is out with Tea Cake fishing at midnight she remarks that she felt like a child breaking rules . This literary work is very strong and profound. It is easy for the reader to be able to relate to this phrase. The reader is able to understand exactly how Janie feels about this new thing that she is doing. Similes are included to effectively convey what the characters are feeling and seeing as well as what the author wishes to relate to the reader.
Metaphors are also significant literary elements that greatly aid in the description and relaying of facts. When Tea Cake speaks of Mrs. Turner s son, he refers to him as uh dirty trick her womb played on her. Instantly the reader is able to sense the contempt that Tea Cake has for the son as well as Mrs. Turner, referring to the child as a mistake. Metaphors are stronger comparisons than similes, for they omit the words like or as. They create direct comparisons that are very profound.
Biblical allusion also appears in the novel a number of times. In order for Tea Cake to describe himself to Janie, he says Ah m de Apostle Paul tuh de Gentiles. Ah tells em and then agin Ah shows em. Tea Cake is telling Janie that he tells it like it is. He doesn t hold anything back. The reader can see that he is an honest man. This successful allusion to the Bible not only adds the meanings of such a great book, but also allows learned readers to know and understand Tea Cake.
Irony is a comic device used in this work. When a brawl occurs at Mrs. Turner s restaurant, she believes that her brother and her son would have helped her greatly to break it up. However the narrator reveals that Nobody told her right away that her son and brother were already on their way after pointed warnings outside the caf . Her valiant family who she believed would save her left her high and dry, much to her dismay. It is ironic that she believed one way, when really her family isn t so loyal. When the Indians prophesy that a hurricane is coming, the ignorant people reply that Beans running fine and prices good, so the Indians could be, must be wrong. These people believe that nothing can go wrong if everything is so right. They were so high on themselves that they stubbornly paid no attention to the warnings. It is ironic that the Indians, who they believe are wrong, are actually right. This ironic event turns into a nightmare for the residents who didn t heed the forewarning.
The manner in which the author structurized the novel in itself is a technique. The beginning initiates in the present and flashes back to reveal Janie s life story, ending up back at the present. It is a different, unique, and creative way to write. Instead of keeping the same, basic plot line, this work has breaks, leaving the reader to put everything in order, themselves. This technique adds to the literary value of the book, elevating it to its apex.
As in most novels, foreshadowing has its part. But instead of a character prophesying or the narrator hinting at future events, it is the action that foreshadows. Before the hurricane sweeps across Florida, the Indians leave their homes, claiming that blooming grass indicates that a hurricane is indeed coming. After this manifestation, the reader becomes uneasy, wondering if the Indians are indeed correct, which the reader finds out later, they are.
Southern dialect is used by Hurston to enrich her work with Black tradition and the manner in which they spoke. It allows the reader to understand this small part of Black history as they evolved into a respected ethnic group in America. At first it is hard to understand what is being said, but within time, the reader becomes accustomed to it. It also coerces the reader to become a part of the novel and enjoy the mood of the South. When writing about events in the South, it becomes necessary to write in the appropriate dialect, which Hurston takes on graciously and wonderfully.