Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston, was a novel about one woman’s self-revelation. It began when she was a very young girl, first being pushed, then chosen, and finally choosing. Born a victim of circumstance, Janie was subject to her position in life. She was raised to uphold the standards of the early African American generation.
From the beginning, she was taught to be passive and subject to whatever life gave her. As she grew older she began to realize she must give in to her desires and not suppress them. Janie, the main character of the story, was set up for her journey of self-discovery by her grandmother.
Nanny set a goal for Janie’s life by saying, “Ah wanted you to look upon yo’ self. Ah don’t want yo’ feathers always crumpled by folks throwin’ up things in yo’ face.” Janie’s grandmother pushed Janie into a marriage, which she considered a ‘safe’ place for Janie. Though hesitant, Janie agreed to marry Logan Killicks.
He was a farmer who married Janie shortly after she completed school. Killicks was the first antagonist that Janie encountered in the story.
He was there for one purpose, to destroy Janie’s new sense of self-awareness. Logan demanded things of Janie that she did not wish to do and tried to push her into his mold of a perfect wife. Janie did not love Logan nor did he love her.
She didn’t know what she wanted, but she knew that she didn’t want Logan Killicks. Joe Starks appeared in Janie’s yard one afternoon. He said the sweet things that Janie wanted to hear. Though Janie hardly knew the man, she was chosen by his words—being young and gullible. She took another step in her journey, leaving Logan the next day and traveling to Eatonville with Joe Starks. Aspiring to be the mayor of Eatonville, Joe Starks was a man concerned with little except power. He wanted it, and he was going to use Janie to get it.
She wore nice dresses during this marriage because Joe wanted her to stand out from the rest of the town; he used her as an icon of his prosperity and power. He was cruel to Janie and stomped out all of her free will. He built his town of Eatonville, became the mayor crushing all in his path, and made many enemies along the way, including Janie.
During the period that she was married to Joe Starks, Janie was not allowed to talk and act like herself, but she began to think for herself—never revealing to Joe how she felt until just before he died. Playing with the hand she dealt herself, she did what he told her, and refrained from leaving Joe Starks physically until after his death; though, her heart left him long before.
Shortly after Joe’s death, not mourning any long than grief, Janie became the figurehead of her personal ship. Over time, she learned that, all along, she had this growing feeling inside her that something was missing—possibly her lack of self-confidence. She chose a new path, seeking her dreams and her identity. Previously the mayor’s wife, Janie encountered many suitors after Joe’s death.
She believed they were in it for her wealth and was very skeptical of the men that confronted her. Tea Cake offered Janie a new direction and didn’t seem to care about her material wealth. He showed her a good time. Not only did she desire marriage, but a friendship also—and she found this with Tea Cake. They were married, and he took her to live in the
Everglades. She began to wear blue and the things Tea Cake liked to see her in. She spoke her mind and acted on her instincts, never holding her feelings back. However, she became what she set out to be after her marriage with Tea Cake. Janie returned to Eatonville after Tea Cake left her in a coffin, and the book ends where it began, as Janie finishes her dialogue with her friend Pheoby.
She walked back into town, with her head high upon her shoulders. She was truly her own person—proud and sure of herself and her place. Though confronted with compelling desires for others to make her a “proper woman,” Janie became independent and free willed by the end of the novel. She overcame the standards of the early African American generation—to have no opinions or inner-initiative.