In her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Hurston describes the struggle of an African-American woman to obtain independence in the world where she is regarded mostly as an object. During the span of her life the main character, Janie Crawford has to prove that she is a self-sufficient person and that she has her own identity that can be neither suppressed nor silenced. The author employs several techniques in order to demonstrate how hardships only intensify the strength of Janies will and determination. Although this work may be viewed by some critics only as a love story, we should bear it in mind that relations with the opposite sex are interwoven with the heroines psychological development and maturity.
Zora Hurston shows that since her childhood, Janie was taught that men would play the most important role in her life. Her first husband, Logan Killicks is much older that she is, and he is used to treating his wife like a “mule” obedient to its master (Hurston, p 20). In fact, their marriage has nothing to do with love because Janie had been forced to make this decision, and naturally she resents Logan. However, once she truly falls in love: Her affection for Jody Starks can be explained by several reasons: first the aversion to Logan and desire to break free from this prison. Yet, we cannot say that Starks personal traits do not appeal to the main character: she is clearly fascinated by his charm, ambitiousness, and aspiration for better life and position in the society. He speaks “for far horizons” and this captivates Janie (Hurson, p 37). For some time she really loves him and this feeling borders on admiration and idolatry.
The writer emphasizes the idea that adoration of male dominance can gradually grow into bondage and slavery. As the story progresses, Jody turns into a tyrant because of his lust for power. Janie suffers from his constant threats and brutal violence. For a while she hopes to live through this experience, but later the heroine realizes that this man can”trample” over anyone in an effort to achieve superiority (Hurston, p 104). Despite of all these difficulties she manages to find a man for whom she is a living being with ones thoughts, wishes, dreams and so forth. Tea Cake immensely helps to evolve into a mature individual able to uphold ones opinion and act relying only on ones own resources.
We should pay attention to the plot of this novel: the author deliberately reverses chronological order of events and presents Janie as an adult or even old woman who arrives at her native town alone. Her neighbors are very much surprised by this fact as they expect her to be with a male companion. But the most striking detail is her strange aloofness. They found her very changed because she no longer seeks their support or consolation. She frequently speaks about her freedom both spiritual and financial (Hurston, p 10). Other people do not fully understand her behavior as at that time it was not typical of an African-American woman to stress her position in the society. Zora Hurston intentionally compares Janie at outset of her life path and during the time of her maturity to underline her growth.
Their Eyes Were Watching God is frequently labeled as love story novel because love (or its complete absence) directs the story line, but we should point out that this theme only helps the author to convey her main message to the reader: the idea that a woman cannot be objectified, suppressed or turned into a silent housewife. She warns other females against falling into this trap by offering the example of Janie Crawford. It is rather difficult to assess this work from modern standpoint because there have been significant changes in the public opinion and many improvements have been brought by feminist movement. But there are some trends in present-day community that are very disturbing because even now many women prefer voluntarily slavery which seems more convenient to them. Therefore, the ideas, expressed by Zora Hurston still remain vital.
Hurston. Z. N. Pinkney. J. “Their eyes were watching God”. University of Illinois Press, 1991.