In the novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston portrays a woman named Janie’s search for love and freedom. Janie, throughout the novel, bounces through three different marriages, with a brief stint at being a widow in between. Throughout these episodes, Hurston uses Janie`s clothing as a visual bookmark of where Janie is in her search for true love and how she is being influenced by those around her.
Janie’s first article of clothing is an apron that she wears while married to Logan Killiks as a hard-working sixteen-year-old. Logan, who Janie describes as looking like “an `ol skullhead in de grave yard,” (pg. 13) marries Janie to fulfill the role laid down by Janie’s grandmother, a mule. Janie goes along with this for nearly a year, until change comes walking down the road in the form of Joe Starks.
Joe is a “citified, stylish man with a hat set at an angle that didn’t belong in those parts,” and he wants to take Janie away. Joe’s dream is to become a “big man” and pleads Janie to take part in his dreams of the future. He proposes marriage to her and arranges a rendezvous at the bottom of the road at sunup the next morning.
Janie is torn because Jody “does not represent sun-up pollen and blooming trees, but he spoke of the far horizon….The memory of Nanny was still strong.” (pg. 28) When Janie decides to leave the next morning for, if nothing else, a healthy change, she looks down and sees the apron which has stood for all the things she has had to do for Logan,” and flung it on a small bush beside the road.
Then she walked on, picking flowers and making a bouquet.” (pg. 31) When Janie threw the apron on the bush, it represented a major change in Janie’s life, and a progression from Logan. Janie is continuing her search for true love, although she knows already that Jody is not the perfect fulfillment of her dream, and how she has been affected by Jody already.
Life with Jody was a disappointment from the beginning of their marriage. As soon as they arrived in the sleepy burg of Eatonville, Jody was trying to gain power and clout in the town and had a clear image of where he wanted Janie in that equation. Jodie built the town’s first store, and soon had Janie working in the “exalted” position of shopkeeper.
After one incident where one of the store regulars was witnessed by Jody feeling Janie’s luxurious hair without her knowledge, Jody, overcome by jealousy, forced her to wear her glorious tresses in a head rag, like those worn by old women with hair that really needed to be kept in a head rag.
This head rag came to typify their whole marriage, with Jody’s selfish appearance loving demands taking precedence over Janie’s needs and dreams. Obviously, Janie had not found true love with Jody either, for soon their marriage broke down into a silent stalemate. After dying a broken man, Janie faced life as a young and well-off widow.
The head rag through the “Jody” period of her life clearly showed her position in her search for love and how she was influenced by those around her. After Jody died, Janie began to be the object of the “aims” of other men, mainly because of her dollar value. Janie dismisses most of these claims, but eventually, a man named Tea Cake came along and brought another phase of her life into swing.
“She couldn’t make him look like just another man to her. He looked like the love thoughts of women. He could be a bee in blossom–a pear tree in blossom in the spring. he seemed to be crushing the scent out of the world with his footsteps. Crushing aromatic herbs with every step he took. he was a glance from God.” (pg. 102)
When the author uses words like these to describe the thoughts of Janie towards Tea Cake, the conclusion can be safely made that Janie was well down the path to love with tea Cake. And travel that path she does. It is now that Janie changes her attire from the garments of widowhood to something a little brighter. “Folks seen you out in colors and dey thinks you ain’t payin’ de right amount of respect tuh yo’ dead husband.”
“Ah ain’t grievin so why do I hafta mourn? Tea Cake Love me in blue, so Ah wears it. Jody ain’t never in his life picked out no color for me. De worl’ picked out black and white for mournin’, Joe didn’t. So Ah wasn’t wearin it for him. Ah was wearin it fo’ the rest of y’all.” (pg. 107-108)
In this passage, Janie clearly moves on from Jody by shedding the husk of mourning black and emerging wearing a blue dress and in love. Tea Cake represents the first man who truly appreciates Janie for who she is and enjoys her for herself. Every other Significant Other in her life previously has tried to shape her into a mold; Logan into the role of the housewife or mule, and Jody as an accessory, much like an ottoman.
With Tea Cake, Janie experiences true love and self-expression, both of which are symbolized by the blue dress. Eventually, Janie and Tea Cake get married and move away, down “on the muck” in the “‘glades.” There, Janie and Tea Cake have a house which is a “magnet, the unauthorized center of the “job.” There, many gather to have fun and gamble.
“Sometimes Janie would think of the old days in the store and the big white house and laugh to herself. What if Eatonville could see her now in her blue denim overalls and heavy shoes?” (pg. 127) This passage is a slice of Janie’s new life on the muck but is catalogs her change of clothes again into blue denim overalls and heavy shoes.
This type of clothing was practical for working on the muck, so she wore them. At this time she began to work with Tea Cake in the fields because Tea Cake couldn’t bear to spend a whole day without her. Janie goes along willingly because “It’s mo’ nicer than sittin round these quarters all day. Clerkin in dat store was hard, but yeah, we ain’t got nothin to do but work and come home and love.” (pg. 127)
This passage is almost a summary of their time on the muck, for it was full of love and hard work.
This whole time can be summarized by the blue denim overalls and heavy shoes, for they represented Janie’s relationship with Tea Cake and showed that she had found true love and it was blind. All of Janie’s clothes represent her search for true love and her relationships with those around her.
When you look around, that is true most of the time in the real world, too. We all wear our clothes as silent messengers, and Hurston used this tool clearly and well in her novel.
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