Last week I finished Zora Neale Hurston’ s Their Eyes Were Watching God, and have been thinking about the protagonist, Janie Crawford, ever since. In one, she’s a woman with two failed marriages and mounds of hardships — the abandonment by her raped-mother, the strong hold of her grandmas desires, and the confessed murdering of her third husband Tea Cake among them; However, she is also a black woman who discovers the essence of life, by abandoning the expectations of those around her and establishing herself, what she desires. These three aspects that shape Janie — marriage, family, and desire — left me pondering on the importance of living according to one’s personal needs. When Janie marries her first husband, Logan Killicks, she does so in order to honor the sacrifices her grandmother had made as a slave. The grandmother beg’s Janie to marry, after discovering the young girl has shared a kiss with a boy named Johnny Taylor. The grandmother states, ” Put me down easy Janie. Ah’m a cracked plate” (Hurston 19). This last sentence comes after a bitter and emotional testimony explaining why Janie needs to be more than the “mule” her grandmother was for others. But once the marriage is done, and the sixty-acres Logan so often boasts about doesn’t make Janie feel anything for him, Janie cries to her grandmother, stating, “ But Nanny, Ah wants to want him sometimes. Ah don’t want him to do all the wantin” ( Hurston 22). This line by the then sixteen year old Janie, is where we as readers discover that though she means well, the grandmother’s desires for Janie are not enough to give her life, and are instead stunting Janie’s growth.
Despite her best efforts to be a good wife, Janie realizes after a fight with Logan that this is not the life for her, and she runs off with the egotistical, but appealing Tony Starks. It is with Starks that Janie spends the bulk of her youthful years, and where she discovers that money and status mean nothing if one does not have love. With Starks, Janie again tries to be the woman she is expected to be, but because it is her choice, she is more hopeful for the marriage. She argues against him seldomly, and sits alongside the mayor, like the pretty object she is expected to be — a habit instilled by her grandmother. However, Janie learns again, after years of trying, that sitting alongside a man who degrades her when she doesn’t obey, is not her place. The narrator tells us after Mayor Starks passes, “ [Janie] hated the old woman who had twisted her so in the name of love” ( Hurston 85). After Janie has had her share of obeying the world, she finds the youth and personal connection she’s desired her entire life, with a younger man named Tea Cake. It is with him that Janie learns to love and speak about the things she wants in life. With Tea Cake Janie is encouraged to say what she means. She caters to him because she desires to do so and not because it is expected, but most importantly it is with Tea Cake where Janie learns to let her hair down, sometimes literally. Unfortunately Tea-Cake is infected with rabies and in an intense standoff in which he tries to shoot Janie, Janie must retaliate and shoot him dead to save her own life.
The life Janie Crawfors leads was criticized heavily by black writers in the 1930’s, especially males during the creation of this book. Richard Wright was one black writer who thought the novel showed black men in a ill light, and criticized the lack of attention paid to the progression of the black culture. What many like Wright missed, however, is that this was not the novel’s goal, rather the focus is on the femininity and independence a woman can have in life. Their Eyes Were Watching God in short, is not a novel meant to fight the black fight, it is a novel speaking to women in search of self love and independence that we hold so valuable today. Establishing this novel in a time period in which the black fight was at its peak could not have been an easy task, and may be why the book initially went out of print, but that doesn’t take away from the power it has. This novel may have been ahead of it’s time for most, but for women, and all women not just black women, this novel came right on time.
— Andrea Rodriguez, Blogger.
Andrea Rodriguez’s Bio
Andrea Rodriguez is a senior at Lewis University. Prior to attending Lewis, she completed her associates at the College of DuPage. Rodriguez is studying English Literature in order to pursue a career as an academic librarian. As for her interests, Andrea loves spending time with her family, being in nature, taking care of her plants, writing, cooking, and traveling when she can. Andrea also enjoys exploring unique writing styles. Some of her favorite pieces include The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man by James Weldon Johnson and “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid. In addition to being a fiction/poetry editor for Jet Fuel Review, Rodriguez is the editor-in-chief of Lewis Voices, and the administrative director for Sigma Tau Delta, of which she is also a member.