Their Eyes Were Watching God: Personal Relationships
Zora Neale Hurston, in keeping with themes dealing with personal relationships and the female search for self-awareness in Their Eyes Were Watching God , has created a heroine in Janie Crawford. In fact, the female perspective is introduced immediately. “Now, women forget all those things they don t want to remember, and remember everything they don t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly” (Their Eyes 1).
On the very first page of Their Eyes Were Watching God, the contrast is made between men and women, thus initiating Janie s search for her own dreams and foreshadowing the “female quest” theme of the rest of the novel. “Detailing her quest for self-discovery and self-definition, it [Their Eyes] celebrates her [Janie] as an artist who enriches Eatonville by communicating her understanding” (Kubitschek 22).
Janie is a Black woman who asserts herself beyond expectation, with a persistence that characterizes her search for the love that she dreamed of as a girl. She understands the societal status that her life has handed her, yet she is determined to overcome this, and she is resentful toward anyone or anything that interferes with her quest for happiness. “So de white man throw down de load and tell de nigger man tuh pick it up. He pick it up because he have to, but he don t tote it. He hand it to his womenfolks. De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see,” opines Janie s grandmother in an attempt to justify the marriage that she has arranged for her granddaughter (Their Eyes 14). This excerpt establishes the existence of the inferior status of women in this society, a status which Janie must somehow overcome in order to emerge a heroine. This societal constraint does not deter Janie from attaining her dream. “She knew now that marriage did not make love. Janie s first dream was dead, so she became a woman” (Their Eyes 24).
Janie is not afraid to defy the expectations that her grandmother has for her life, because she realizes that her grandmother s antiquated views of women as weaklings in need of male protection even at the expense of a loving relationship, constitute limitations to her personal potential. “She hated her grandmother . . . .Nanny had taken the biggest thing God ever made, the horizon ” (Their Eyes 85-86).
Nevertheless, Janie is not afraid to follow her instincts, even when this means leaving her first husband to marry her second – without a divorce. “Janie hurried out of the front gate and turned south. Even if Joe was not there waiting for her, the change was bound to do her good” (Their Eyes 31). The gossip that spreads throughout her small town when she leaves with a younger man – after the death of her second husband leaves her a widow – does not slow her down in the least.
Finally, she finds happiness with Tea Cake, and it means so much more, because she has decided to go through with it on her own. Discovering the “two things everybody s got to do fuh theyselves,” is Janie s personal victory (Their Eyes 183). “They got tuh go tuh God, and they got to find out about livin fuh theyselves,” are the sentiments shared by Janie once her journey is over (Their Eyes 183). Embodying a theme of the novel, this discovery directly contradicts the anti – religion themes employed by Wright.
Hurston has portrayed a female character as an emergent heroine, a creator of her own destiny, and one who has mastered the journey for self-awareness. Says Mary Helen Washington in the Foreword of Their Eyes Were Watching God, “for most Black women readers discovering Their Eyes for the first time, what was most compelling was the figure of Janie Crawford – powerful, articulate, self-reliant, and radically different from any woman character they had ever before encountered in literature.” Janie Crawford is defiant; she defies men, but most importantly, she defies our own preconceived notions of what the role of an African-American woman should be in modern literature.