The pursuit of happiness is a reoccurring theme in numerous novels. In the novel, Their Eye’s Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, what brings happiness differs to each character. To the main character Janie, happiness is found in love, but to her grandmother Nanny, happiness is found in security. At first, Janie does what Nanny wills her to. At the age of 16, Janie marries into security. She is safe, but unhappy. Still yearning for love, Janie runs away with Mr. Starks. With Starks, Janie is once again safe, but unhappy. Starks then passes away, and Janie finds her true love, Tea Cake.
Through Tea Cake Janie re-realizes her dream of love and abandons Nanny’s dream of security, she descends into the muck with Tea Cake, learning to love life too. To find happiness, Janie has to step down from her pedestal and into the muck. Hurston efficiently uses this reverse metaphor to convey that happiness comes from mutual love, and that this can be found anywhere, even from the muck of society. Nanny’s ideals in life and Janie’s are different. To “take a stand on high ground” (p16) is the ideal for Nanny. Nanny wants Janie to marry into security.
With security, Janie could be safe from the abuse that her grandmother and mother had experienced. At first, this is what Janie does even though it is not what she wants. She wants to be in love, “to be a pear tree—any tree in bloom! With kissing bees and singing of the beginning of the world! ” (p11). When Janie finds this, she realizes what Nanny’s dream had done to her. She realizes that her dreams had been “pinched it in to [into] such a little bit of a thing that she could tie her grandmother’s neck tight enough to choke her” (p89). With this realization, Janie’s dream rekindles.
She realizes that mutual love, him loving her, and her “wants (wanting) to want him”, is all she needs to find love in life and herself. Janie’s search for love ends with Tea Cake. Janie and Tea Cake are at opposite ends of the social spectrum when they meet. Janie is known as Mrs. Mayor Starks, while Tea Cake is known as a “player. ” Even though Tea Cake can offer her no security, he can offer her love and acceptance. When first meeting, Tea Cake asks Janie to play checkers. Janie “found (finds) herself glowing inside. Somebody wanted (wants) her to play.
Somebody thought (finds) it natural for her to play” (p96). Tea Cake sees Janie as woman, not a trophy wife. And because of this, Janie sees Tea Cake as a lover, not a lowlife. Once Janie is able to love Tea Cake, she learns to love the muck as well. Janie thinks, “if people think de same they can make it all right. So in the beginnin’ new thoughts had tuh be thought, and new words said” (p115). Janie has to experience new things with Tea Cake, like the muck, in order to love and understand him even more. Once she accepts the muck, she becomes a part of it. Sometimes Janie would think of the old days in the big white house and the store and laugh to herself” (p134).
This is because like Tea Cake, the muck accepts her. “Only here, she could listen and laugh and even talk sometimes herself if she wanted to” (p134). Being in the muck is like being in love, except with place, and eventually with life. Even though the muck has no riches and is the lowest aspect in society, it doesn’t matter to Janie. In the muck, Janie is poor but she is accepted. Janie is loved, and Janie is happy. Janie has a dream of love and happiness, but her grandmother also has a dream of security.
At first Nanny’s dreams overpowered her own, leading Janie into a secure but loveless marriage. Janie then becomes Mrs. Mayor Starks, which Nanny would have loved, but joy still eludes her. To find this joy, Janie has to find love. Then Tea Cake appears in her life, becoming her one and only. He gives her what she wants, a mutual love. Janie then moves to the muck with Tea Cake and learns to work. She is no longer Mrs. Mayor Starks, she is Janie. In the muck, she learns that love is trust and acceptance. She learns to find love in everything, even herself. Janie is now truly happy. Even in the lowest part of society.