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According to Alice Walker, who began a study on black folklore in 1970 discovered Zora Neale Hurston, a Harlem Renaissance writer and folklorist to be exquisite to Walker considering they’re both young and black female writers and saw Hurston as a magnificent role model “in art, in behavior, in growth of spirit and intellectual” (Walker, pg.4). The novel is viewed as a mechanism of feminist protest through its condemnation of its restrictiveness of bourgeoisie marriage and though its exploration of interracial sexism and male dominance.
In Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston presents a feminist view through Janie Starks. In the novel, women are looked upon as property and men are dominant. However, Janie not only learned her lesson through her past relationships but finds her independence as a woman.
Although Janie Starks achieves a sense of identity as a self-filled woman through her own self-realization, the novel criticizes the suffering of black women whose working-class presences are dominated by hard labor and financial instability.
Janie’s struggles for identity and self-direction remains inhibit due to never defining herself outside the scope of her martial or romantic involvements. Janie’s struggle to free herself from the expectations from her slave grandmother, who sees marriage as an indiscriminate sexual exploitation. Janie’s experiences with her past relations with Killicks, Starks, and Tea Cake put a toll on her future involvements with any man in the future.
Janie was forced by Nanny to marry Logan Killicks because she values financial security and respectability, but Logan was cruel and conceited towards Janie and treated her as if she were a farm animal.
Nanny prioritizes physical and financial security over love through the enforcement and practice of African-American male dominance in order to protect Janie from sexual assault by white men and low-class womanhood. Nanny also upholds male dominance by promoting the salvific wish, which according to Candice Jenkins calls for “self-control or self-denial” of female sexual desire in order to achieve middle class status through its adopted values (Jenkins 14).
Janie escaped from her marriage with Logan Killicks, which provided neither affection nor comfort by making her feel unwanted and used. Jody Starks was Janie’s second husband who is the mayor, storekeeper, and executive of Eatonville, Starks was forceful and dominate of Janie, but also made Janie find her voice and become a woman of power. Janie’s marriage to Jody Starks exposed cleverly through the devaluation and aloneness of the middle-class women whose sole purpose is to serve as an ornament and symbol of her husband’s social class. She learned from her marriage with Jody that she needed to think about her happiness and married couples should view each other as equal. When Janie married Tea Cake, she had the knowledge that although she had been through two marriages without love, true love could be found within Tea Cake. Tea Cake was Janie’s only husband who treated Janie with respect, introduced her to new experiences, and never made Janie feel unequal due to enduring her voice and letting her speak instead of silencing her.
Janie’s marriage to Tea Cake paradoxically interpreted by the various critics as a continuation of male dominance that is overcome through Janie’s killing of Tea Cake or as a marriage of true and equal minds in which Janie reveals of self-esteem. In the novel, the narrative voice dismisses Tea Cake’s later violence by stating that is “no brutal beating” (Hurston 218). Hurston uses the beating to emphasize Tea Cake’s insecurity. Hurston’s personal attitude about violence in the battle of the sexes makes it doubtful that Tea Cake’s death is a punishment for his treatment of Janie (Lupton). Tea Cake devoted himself to making Janie happy and sacrificed his life fighting a dragon (Allegory of); therefore, Hurston creates an alliance of pure romance and a life of adventure (Joyce).
Diana Miles argues in her “Women, Violence, & Testimony in the Works of Zora Neale Hurston that Their Eyes Were Watching God” interrogates the use of violence as a way of maintaining control over women” (Miles 42). Before Janie’s marriages, she was very naïve about love Janie finds her voice and independence through the love and respect of her past relationships. The Hurricane in the novel helped Janie better understand herself, but Janie’s past relationships with her ex-husbands also made her into the woman she is now due to the lack of respect from Killicks and Starks and the overwhelming love she had for Tea Cake.
Janie never learns to shape her destiny by making her own choices; Janie is very dependent upon Tea Cake, who frees her until he becomes ill with rabies (Walker). Janie finds her spiritual journey or quest of self-awareness and eventually gains confidence in herself. Although, Tea Cake treated Janie equally to him, Janie shot Tea Cake to demonstrate her strength of self-awareness. The reversal created by Tea Cake’s illness and death provides Janie with the opportunity for self-direction and control over her life, Janie can choose self when forced to save her life by killing Tea Cake whom Janie loved so desperately. Instead, Janie moves immediately into a new position of dependence.
Ken Silber’s article, “An African American Woman’s Journey of Self Discovery in Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God,” states a question of what a woman of color needs to achieve self-realization in a world dominated by male attempts to restrict her (Silber, 281). However, a deeper analysis of symbols and relationships in their Eyes Were Watching God, clearly Jane gained self-realization not after Tea Cake’s death, but before she begins a relationship with him as a result of incremental growth which she first experiences under the pear tree. Hurston uses the image of the tree throughout Janie’s relationships to demonstrate the progression of Janie’s self-realization and affirmation.
The critical move to reintegrate Janie not only into a community of women but also into the black community. To Janie the black people on the muck are fellow participants in the game of life and sources of amusements. The muck, where Janie lives with Tea Cake, provides the fertile soil for a blooming Janie. One of the major issues in the redefinition of black womanhood is the role individualism. In approaching Their Eyes Were Watching God with a feminist perspective, critics view the text through ideological prisms that color their conclusions. The novel is a literature that scolds to the sexual, cultural, and political needs of black women.
Their Eyes Were Watching God provides a most effective examination of the stultification of feminine talent and energy within traditional middle-class life. An investigation into the history of black Americans supplements the literary study of Their Eyes Were Watching God. The novel appears to be the triumphant story of a woman’s search for love and self, as Janie tells the story of her life, she displays a growing ability to determine her future. Janie learned between the line of life and death is not fixed and realizes that Tea Cake “could never be dead until she herself had finished feeling and thinking” (286). Zora Neale Hurston’s aspect of this novel was to encourage the minds of women who are discouraged and confined of dominate men are not alone, women are powerful in every way, but never get the audacity to speak up for what they believe in and define their independence as women. Hurston wrote this novel to prove the emptiness of the middle-class woman’s isolation and her falseness of her seeming social elevation. Hurston also wrote this novel to deflect on her ambiguity about race, sex, and class.
Their Eyes Were Watching God is a novel that analyzes with a great deal of artistry the struggle of a middle-class woman to escape the shackles of traditional marriage and the narrow social restriction of her class and sex. Janie Killicks Starks Woods never distinguishes herself. as an independent, instinctively fulfilled human being. Janie does not form the strong female racial bonds that lack feminists have considered necessary in their definition of an ideologically correct literature. The novel not only offers a penetrating view of Janie’s evolving thinking process, but we are given plenty of insight into the mindsets of those who would wish to condemn her. Janie pays the price of exclusion for nonconformity, much like Hurston herself, was accused of stereotyping the people she loved when she perhaps simply listened to them and sought to reclaim and reclassify their voices.
Zora Neale Hurston, who was born on January 7, 1891, in Notasulga, Alabama, wrote Their Eyes Were Watching God. The novel is about the story of Janie Crawford, deep-thinking black woman who embarks on a search for her own self. Janie’s quest began at the age of sixteen when her dying grandmother marries her off to Logan Killicks. Hurston used such incidents from her own life to indicate the novel which is a love story inspired by her relationship with Punter. Hurston saturated Janie with some of the questing quality that characterized her own life. Janie was more conventional than Hurston will ever be; she seeks her identity in the eyes and arms of men. Janie always thought she needed a man to make herself happy, but never find her independence as true woman until her love, Tea Cake died.
Zora Neale Hurston indicates herself almost like Janie through all the involvements like discovering she is a “colored” girl to returning to Eatonville heartbroken having toiled in the bean fields, survived a hurricane and lost the man she most dearly loved which Janie had experienced herself too. Hurston wrote this novel to express her dignity about how women need to be equal to men, not treated like property as Janie was. Hurston also wrote this novel to indicate how she found her true independence as a woman, by standing up for herself to convey to other women that we are equal and should never be put through the experiences that Hurston had to go through in her life. She was able to stand up for not only her race, but also her feminist point of view to the world. Hurston had a different perspective on how she viewed the world and she wanted to change how women view their selves by writing a book to show women that we do not need men to make us happy, but to find our true independence as a woman.
The novel remains as one of the most important works of the twentieth- century as an enduring Southern love story gleaming with beauty and heartfelt wisdom. Hurston’s masterwork that narrated of a woman who refused to live in a fearful, sorrow, and foolish romantic dreams. The story is of an independent woman and her evolving selfhood through her three marriages and a life marked by poverty and purposes. Janie expresses her self-realization first, by killing Logan Killicks; second, by going against the male dominated wishes of Eatonville; and last, by placing herself in an equal position with a man in an on-the-surface violent circumstance. This perspective changes the popular view of Tea Cake as a savior to Janie’s self-realization and transports the weight of her newfound identity to a culmination of her experiences and previous relationships. Hurston wrote this novel under emotional duress to express her journey of self-discovery and freely used such incidents from her own life to inform that the novel is a love story inspired by relationships with Punter. Hurston imbued Janie with some quality that characterized her own life and used Their Eyes Were Watching God to convey her view that women were the equals of men in every way.
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