Finding her Voice

Janie Crawford, the main character of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, strives to find her own voice throughout the novel and, in my opinion, she succeeds even though it takes her over thirty years to do it.  Each one of her husband’s has a different effect on her ability to find that voice.

Janie discovers her will to find her voice when she is living with Logan.  Since she did not marry him for love, tensions arise as time moves on and Logan begins to order her around.  But Janie is young and her will has not yet been broken. 

She has enough strength to say “No” and to leave him by running away with Joe.  At this point, Janie has found a part of her voice, which is her not willing to be like a slave in her husband’s hands.

After Janie marries Joe, she discovers that he is not the person she thought he was.  He tells her what to do the same way Logan did, just a little bit more delicately by saying that it is not a woman’s job to do whatever he does not want her to do. 

Throughout her twenty years of life with Joe, Janie loses her self-consciousness because she becomes like a little kid being told what to do by an adult, Joe.  She does it without even questioning herself, which is why I think that she loses the part of her voice that she has discovered by running away from Logan. 

At times, she has enough courage to say no to Joe, but he always has something to say back that discourages Janie from continuing her argument. 

But, in my opinion, Janie does not lose her will to find herself and it might have even become stronger because the reader can see that Janie is not happy with the way things are now and that she will probably want to change them in the future.

When Joe dies and Janie marries Tea Cake, she feels free because even though Tea Cake asks for her opinion when he does something and cares about her.  Since this is Janie’s first marriage where she actually loves her husband, she feels free and discovers many new things in life that she has not noticed before. 

She becomes more sociable, wants to go places with Tea Cake, enjoys working with other people, and likes shooting games.  Although she never shot a rifle before, she becomes a better shooter than Tea Cake, and he respects her for that, which allows Janie to get back her self-respect which she had lost while being with her previous husbands.  In a way, Janie’s spiritual awakening begins when she lives with Tea Cake.

As the reader can see, Janie has a hard life where she has to struggle in order not to become inferior to her husband’s.  She succeeds when she is with Tea Cake, which also marks the time when her inner voice starts to awaken.  But not until after Tea Cake’s death does she realize that she has understood her place in life, or in other words, she has found her voice.

Finding her Identity

In the novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, there are many lessons on a person’s search for identity.  Janie’s search for identity throughout this book is very visible.  It has to do with her search for a name, and freedom for herself.  As she goes through life her search takes many turns for the worse and a few for the better, but in the end, she finds her true identity.  Through her marriages with Logan, Joe, then Tea Cake she figures out what is for her and how she wants to live.  So in the end, she is where she wants to be.

In Janie’s early life she lived with her grandmother, Nanny.  Nanny and Janie were pretty well off and had the privilege to live in the yard of white folks.  While Janie was growing up she played with the white children.  While she was in this stage, she was faced with much criticism and was called many names, so many that everyone started calling her alphabet, “’cause so many people had done named me different names.” 

Soon she started piecing together what she knew of her odd identity.  Then one day she saw herself in a photograph and noticed that she looked different, that she had dark skin, and she said, “Before Ah seen de picture Ah thought Ah wuz just like de rest.”  From this point, Janie fell into somewhat of a downward spiral, setting her off of the path toward finding her own identity in society.  Finally when she was older Nanny saw her doing something under the pear tree that she thought was unacceptable. 

Nanny quickly arranged a marriage between Janie and a well-off local man, Logan Killicks.  In this marriage Janie resisted.  She felt as if she was losing her freedom as well as her identity, she wasn’t Janie anymore she was now Mrs. Logan Killicks, and she was somewhat obligated to do what he wanted.  Not long into this marriage, Janie has had enough, and when the chance to go away with a smooth, romantic man, she takes the chance.

The man Janie left Logan for was named Joe Starks.  Joe was a smart man who started his own town, Eatonville.  In the beginning of her relationship with, Joe, she felt loved, something she never really felt while she had been with Logan. 

At first, when she ran away with Joe, she felt as if she was finding her new identity, but all there was for her to find was a great maze not always heading her toward her new identity.  While she was with Joe she felt as if she had a position of subservience to Joe, he did not see her as an equal.  When Joe was nominated to be mayor, and the people wanted to hear from Mrs. Mayor Starks, Joe said, “mah wife don’t know nothin’ ’bout speech-makin’.” 

What he was saying was that Janie wasn’t there for her smarts, she was there to be his wife, to beat for the show, to run the store and the post office, and most of all to be Mrs. Mayor Starks.  Throughout this marriage Janie thought she was losing more and more of her identity and freedom in this marriage.  By the end of the marriage, she did not have her kitchen and housework that she loved to do, and she had lost her name.

After the timely demise of Joe, another man came into Janie’s life, Vergible Woods, a.k.a. Tea Cake.  He was an unpretentious man without the status of high class, unlike Logan and Joe.  He was just what Janie had wanted.  Tea Cake gave Janie the freedom to do whatever she wanted.  He allowed her to play checkers and talk to whomever she wanted.  The name issue arose again in this relationship.  When Janie was with Tea Cake most of the people called her “Janie.” 

By this time she had finally found her identity.  She was just an average person who wanted freedom and who didn’t always like having complete security.  In her marriage to Tea Cake, Janie finally had peace and love.  She wanted to do most of whatever Tea Cake was doing.  She did not feel any obligation to work with Tea Cake, she just wanted to.  So when she returned to Eatonville in her overalls, she had inside of her, true inner happiness and knowledge of her identity.

In this novel, Zora Neale Hurston shows many points on her view of a woman’s place in America in the twentieth century.  One of the points that she makes is that women need to search for their independent identity.  Women should not settle for a simple life of being put down and controlled by men.  If women are dissatisfied in a marriage they need to move on toward the things that do satisfy them.  She is also stating that women in the twentieth century can hold their own in life. 

They should become equals of men in work because they are not the stupid weaklings that should be forced to fill a role of subservience to men.  Finally, her last comment about women’s place in America in the twentieth century is that women can be independent and don’t have to lose their identity when they get married.

Janie had a hard time finding her identity.  Through her childhood, her marriage to Logan, then Joe, and then finally Tea Cake, Janie has always hoped to have an identity independent of anyone else.  Hurston’s model for twentieth-century women is a very defined model.  One which holds freedom, an identity, and an equal level of stature to men, all of which Janie strived to have.  Overall Janie’s end identity is one that many women in the twentieth century strive to behold.

author avatar
William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

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