Their Eyes Were Watching God: Love Journey
Zora Neale Hurston, author of Their Eyes Were Watching God, wrote the novel during a racial period in the South. She contributed as an African American freelance writer, screenwriter, college professor, and librarian. Her father despised her love for reading and writing. So, she read every book she could and wrote a lot of poetry. In the novel, Hurston uses a biracial teenage girl named Janie, who marries three very different men and flourishes into a strong, unconstrained woman. Janie narrates the story of her love life to her best friend Phoeby. Her grandmother sets her up with Logan Killicks, a very old, ugly man. She meets Jody (Joe) Starks while married to Logan and runs away with him. While working in a store she meets Tea Cake, a young, handsome wanderer. These men attempt to change Janie and her views, negatively and positively. According to Bernard, Janie claims a dialectical understanding of the self when she asserts that the goal of self-formation is for her to find herself in others and vice versa(4). Janie is very satisfied with her life because of the love she experienced and lessons learned. Hurston compares love journeys between her three husbands to illustrate the desire for true fulfillment.
Logan Killicks, her first husband, provides Janie with financial security and safety, but not what she truly needs. He’s dominate, apathetic, and discontent. She thought that after marrying him and staying for a while she would learn to love him, but nanny says love is not important. He pampered her for a year, roughly. Logan shows his dominancy while he was out working in the yard. He asks Janie to stop what she’s doing in the home and come out to help. She denies him. He tells her, “If Ah kin haul de wood heah and chop it fuh yoh, look lak you oughta be able tuh tote it inside”(25). Logan compares his last wife to Janie by saying “She’d grab dat ax and sling chips lak uh man”(25). He believes that Janie has no specific place in or around the home. “Logan is never cruel, but he expects obedience as well as Janie’s commitment to what matters to him- the cultivation of his farm”(Hawkes n.p.). Logan feels neglected by Janie because she does not do what is needed on his farm. He is apathetic towards her. Abbas recognizes that Logan treats Janie as if she is a servant, not caring for her love or emotions(5).
He sees women as an object to be put to use for his benefit. During this marriage, he is discontent with the way Janie acts. He allows his dominate ways to interfere with their marriage. Janie becomes more defiant as the years passed. Grey says, “Janie noticed that he was fading away from her, he didn’t seem quite so fond anymore”(3). During a time of vulnerableness while Logan is gone, Janie meets Joe Starks. He is a handsome, well-dressed man. She knew that he did not belong around that part of town. He talks in such a way that persuades Janie to leave Logan, marry him, and go to Eatonville. That night Janie asks Logan how he would feel if she left him, he immediately becomes defensive and emotional. He says, “You won’t git far and you won’t be long, when dat big gut reach over and grab dat little one, you’ll be too glad to come back here”(29). Then on, Janie realizes she is wasting her time on the wrong man. While he is out working in the field, he blames her for having feelings. She runs out on Logan and goes to Joe where he is standing waiting. Janie is able to breathe a breath of freedom. Joe marries Janie that same day and they take off to Eatonville.
Joe Starks, her second husband, treats Janie how he thought a woman should be treated. He is possessive, demeaning, and controlling. He becomes mayor of Eatonville and builds up a town of only colored folks. “This new life reminds her of the pear tree and it’s blossoms”(Abbas 7). Joe shows his possessiveness when the others wanted to hear one from his wife, Janie. He told them his wife did not know anything about speech-makin(40). In addition, Abbas said, “Her everyday job is to stand in the store and follow Joe’s orders.” Janie has long beautiful hair and Joe makes her keep it hidden while she is working in the store, so men do not look at her.. In the novel, the townspeople talk about how they see Joe:
He’s uh whirlwind among breezes [. . .]. Speaking of winds, he’s de wind and we’se the grass. We bend which ever way he blows [. . .], but at dat us needs him. De town wouldn’t be nothin’ if it wasn’t for him. He can’t help bein’ sorta bossy. Some folks needs thrones, and ruling-chairs and crowns tuh make they influence felt. He don’t. He’s got uh throne in de seat of his pants. Whut Ah don’t lak ‘bout de man is, he talks tuh unlettered folks wid books in his jaws [. . .]. Showing off his learning. (46)
Joe is demeaning. He is so self-centered that he treats Janie in ways that are tearing her down. “She felt far away from things and lonely”(44). Her feelings about anything did not really matter to Joe he looked at her as an ornament that bolsters his social standing(Lieberman n.p.). As Joe began to get older the insults toward Janie happened more often and got harsher. He noticed that Janie was not aging as quickly as he was, so he told her that she was not a young girl anymore and no one is looking to make a wife out of her as old as she is(75). After embarrassing her in front of the people at the store, she says something back to him. Janie was no longer able to take the abuse from Joe. He is humiliated and surprised by her actions, so he hit her. Joe shows how controlling he can be when Janie butted in a conversation about the town mule and forbid her to indulge. “He didn’t want her talking after such trashy people(50). Their relationship deteriorates because of Joe’s dominance. On his deathbed, Janie explains to him how he caused her unhappiness and resentfulness. “All dis bowin’ down, all dis obedience under yo’ voice—dat ain’t whut Ah rushed down de road to find out about yuh”(103). She complains about him trying to change her into the way he wants her to be. “She realizes with Joe that sometimes, the person you love cannot accept you as you are”(Eyes Summary n.p.). Joe dies and “this leaves Janie independent of her husband and free to discover herself as a woman”(Grey 7).
Working in the store one day she meets her third husband, Tea Cake. With Tea Cake Janie feels more lively and she never holds anything back. Tea Cake is heartwarming, treats Janie equally, and teaches her how to love. He gives her want she needs, unconditional love and happiness. He tells her that he was not going anywhere and she has the keys to the kingdom(116). “His presence ends Janie’s long time restlessness and boredom”(Abbas 11). Tea Cake makes her feel as if she has been reborn and living her younger years with him. “Tea Cake wasn’t strange. Seemed as if she had known him her whole life”(94). “He was a man that did not have much to look after to his name, so unlike the others he had room to make Janie his prime priority(Johnson n.p.). He showed much equality in the relationship. He played checkers with Janie which was very important to her. No man has ever asked her to play with him. They move to Jacksonville and get married. They work in the muck together. Janie doubts him because he took her money and ran off for hours. She prays for Tea Cakes return when he leaves for days at a time. She has been waiting for someone like him to fill that void in her life. They both love each other the same. Making Janie happy means he is happy. Joe did not give her this kind of love.
He figured that if he gave her what he thought she needed and kept her on this high pedestal for everyone to see, she will be happy. Janie is comfortable in this marriage as she is able to speak her mind and hold nothing back. When Tea Cake returns after two days of being gone she tells him, “looka heah, Tea Cake, if you ever go off from me and have a good time lak dat and then come back heah tellin’ me how nice Ah is, Ah specks tuh kill yuh dead. You heah me? (119) He is hers and she is his. She is in love with him. “Janie looked down on him and felt a self-crushing love. So her soul crawled out from its hiding place”(122). Janie gave him reassurance of her loving him. It was well said in this quote, “well then, Janie, you meant whut you didn’t say, cause Ah never knowed you wuz so satisfied wid me lak dat”(151).
Despite the hardships and corrupted love in Janie life, she never have up on love. She learns to never be a man’s footstool or object. She learned from her marriage with Logan that you cannot learn to love someone. Joe did not marry her for love, he married her because of her looks. He knew she would be a nice accessory to his life. Tea Cake gave her a chance to love and live her life to the fullest. Janie learns that you have to go there to know there and no one can show or tell you. Everyone has to do two things for themselves, they have to go to God and they have to find out about living for themselves(183).
Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. J.B Lippincott & Co. 1953. Print.
Hawkes, DeLisa D. (2014) “Self-Realization in a Restricted World: Janie’s Early Discovery in Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God,” The Journal of Traditions & Beliefs: Vol. 4, Article 5. Web. 10 April 2018. <https://engagedscholarship.csuohio.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1024&context=jtb>
Farah, Abbas Mahmood. (2011) “The concept of Love and Marriage in Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God” J. Of College Of Education For Women: Vol 22. Web. 15 April 2018. ;https://www.iasj.net/iasj?func=fulltext;aId=2053;
Custodio, Lee. (2017) “Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Hurston, a Reflection” Web . 15 April 2018. ;https://owlcation.com/humanities/Their-Eyes-Were-Watching-God-a-Reflection;
“Janie’s Three Marriages in Hurston’s There Eyes Were Watching God” Web. 15 April 2018. ;www.bartleby.com/essay/Janies-Three-Marriages-in-Hurstons-There-Eyes-FKJW6JWZTJ;