Their Eyes Werw Watching God Essay Research

Their Eyes Werw Watching God Essay, Research Paper

Theme Analysis

Alice Walker depicts Zora Neale Hurston’s work as providing the

African-American literary community with its prime symbol of “racial

health – a sense of black people as complete, complex, undiminished

human beings” (190). Appropriately, Hurston’s Their Eyes Were

Watching God, published in 1937, provides an enlightening look at

the journey of one of these undiminished human beings, Janie

Crawford. Janie’s story – based on principles of self-exploration,

self-empowerment, and self-liberation – details her loss and

subsequent attainment of her innocence, as she constantly learns

and grows from her difficult experiences with gender issues

and racism in Their Eyes Were Watching God.

After joyfully discovering an archetype for sensuality and love under

the pear tree at age sixteen, Janie quickly comes to understand the

reality of marriage when she marries Logan Killicks, then Joe Starks.

Both men attempt to coerce Janie into submission to them by

treating her like a possession: where Killicks works Janie like a

mule, Joe objectifies her like a medal around his neck. In addition,

Janie learns that passion and love are tied to violence, as Killicks

threatens to kill her, and both Joe and Tea Cake beat her to assert

their dominance. Yet Janie continually struggles to keep her inner

Self intact and strong, remaining resilient in spite of her husbands’

physical, verbal, and mental abuse. Janie’s resilience is rewarded

when she finally meets and marries Tea Cake, who represents the

closest semblance to her youthful idealism regarding love and


Another male figure playing prominently in Janie’s life is the white

man who raped her grandmother; her lineage determines, therefore,

that Janie will look whiter than other black women. This fair

complexion eventually attracts the ambitious Joe Starks, yet also

contributes to Joe’s objectification of Janie. Yet, outward

appearances aside, Janie’s identity takes shape in response to the

white male tyranny that made her own birth possible.

For example, Janie’s husband Jody paints his house “a gloaty,

sparkly white,” (44) humiliates the citizens of Eatonville in similar

ways as the white man would, and forces Janie into the slavish

servitude reflected by the identity-confining head rag he makes her

wear (51). Yet, Janie fights Joe’s tyranny by telling him off just before

he dies in Chapter Eight, then reclaims her own identity by burning

up “every one of her head rags” (85). Similarly, Janie encounters Mrs.

Turner, Hurston’s symbol of internalized racism, who doesn’t “blame

de white folks from hating [African-Americans] ’cause Ah can’t stand

‘em mahself” (135). Again, however, Janie remains true

to herself as she continues to form her own identity by refusing to

leave Tea Cake and class off as Mrs. Turner suggests.

Rather than self-destruct under the constant realities of racism and

misogyny she receives throughout her life, Janie Crawford does the

opposite at the close of Their Eyes Were Watching God. The novel’s

final image states what Janie does throughout the story – taking her

difficult past in and growing stronger and wiser as a result of it.

Author Zora Neale Hurston believed that freedom “was something

internal?.The man himself must make his own emancipation” (189).

Likewise, in her defining moment of identity formation, Janie “pulled

in her horizon like a great fish-net. Pulled it from around the waist of

the world and draped it over her shoulder. So much of life in its

meshes! She called in her soul to come and see” (184). At the end of

a novel focusing on self-revelation and self-formation, Janie survives

with her soul – made resilient by continual struggle – intact.

Metaphor Analysis

Pear tree: In her Nanny’s back yard, Janie lies beneath the pear tree

when, “the inaudible voice of it all came to her. She saw a

dust-bearing bee sink into the sanctum of a bloom; the thousand

sister-calyxes arch to meet the love embrace and the ecstatic shiver

of the tree from root to tiniest branch creaming in every blossom and

frothing with delight. So this was a marriage! She had been

summoned to behold a revelation” (11). Janie’s youthful idealism

leads her to believe that this intense sensuality must be similar to

the intimacy between lovers, and she wishes “to be a pear tree – any

tree in bloom!” (11). The image suggests a wholeness – as bees

pollinate blossoms paralleling human sexual intercourse – which

Janie finds missing in her marriages to both Logan Killicks and Joe

Starks, but finally discovers in her relationship with Tea Cake.

Mules: Janie’s grandmother initiates comparison between black

women and mules, declaring “De[African-American] woman is de

mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see” (14). In addition, both of

Janie’s first two husbands own mules, and the way they respectively

treat them parallels the way they treat Janie. Logan Killicks works

his mule demandingly; Joe Starks, having bought Matt Bonner’s mule

from him, puts it out to pasture as a status symbol rather than using


Janie’s hair: Forced by Joe Starks (who refuses to allow other men

to lust after his wife’s hair) to be worn up under a head rag throughout

their marriage, Janie’s hair functions as a symbol of the submission

Joe demanded of her. Janie surrenders to Joe’s will externally by

wearing the head rag, yet remains steadfast internally against Joe’s

abuse. Thus, her hair suggests that Janie “had an inside and an

outside now and suddenly she knew how not to mix them” (68). After

Joe’s death, Janie burns all of her head rags in a symbolic act of


Their Eyes Were Watching God: The novel’s title is taken from

Chapter 18, as the hurricane strikes the Everglades. Tea Cake and

Janie “sat in company with the others in other shanties, their eyes

straining against crude walls and their souls asking if he meant to

measure their puny might against His. They seemed to be staring at

the dark, but their eyes were watching God” (151). This passage,

taken in conjunction with other occurrences in Their Eyes Were

Watching God, signifies God’s arbitrary will, which provides Janie and

her companions with a sense of fate and destiny. Janie recognizes

that people have to be watching because life comes down hard on

them, as evidenced in the case of many characters throughout the


Top Ten Quotes

1) Janie, on her gossiping neighbors, stressing the importance of

storytelling and oral tradition: “Ah don’t mean to bother wid tellin’ ‘em

nothin’, Pheoby. ‘Tain’t worth de trouble. You can tell ‘em what Ah

say if you wants to. Dat’s just de same as me ’cause mah tongue is

in mah friend’s mouf” (6).

2) Janie, to the men of Eatonville: “Sometimes God gits familiar wid

us womenfolks too and talks His inside business. He told me?how

surprised y’all is goin’ tuh be if you ever find out you don’t know half

as much ’bout us as you think yo do. It’s so easy to make yo’self out

God Almighty when you ain’t got nothin’ tuh strain against but women

and chickens” (70-71).

3) On Janie: “She was a rut in the road. Plenty of life beneath the

surface but it was kept beaten down by the wheels” (72).

4) Janie, after Joe’s death: “To my thinkin’ mourning oughtn’t tuh last

no longer’n grief” (89).

5) Eatonville habitants, on Janie: “It was hard to love a woman that

always made you feel so wishful” (111).

6) On Tea Cake: “Janie looked down on him and felt a self-crushing

love. So her soul crawled out from its hiding place” (122).

7) On waiting for the mighty hurricane: “They sat in company with the

others in other shanties, their eyes straining against crude walls and

their souls asking if He meant to measure their puny might against

His. They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were

watching God” (151).

8) Tea Cake, on Janie: “?don’t say you’se ole. You’se uh lil girl baby

all de time. God made it so you spent yo’ ole age first wid somebody

else, and saved up yo’ young girl days to spend wid me” (172).

9) Janie, on love: “?love ain’t somethin’ lak uh grindstone dat’s de

same thing everywhere and do de same thing tuh everything it touch.

Love is lak de sea. It’s uh movin’ thing, but still and all, it takes its

shape from de shore it meets, and it’s different with every shore”


10) Janie: “It’s uh known fact, Pheoby, you got tuh go there tuh


there?.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”


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