Love and Relationships in Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

In their eyes were watching god, Zora Neale Hearst begins her novel with Janie Mae Crawford returning to Eatonville, Florida. The townspeople immediately gossip about Janie, as many of them do throughout the book. Specifically, they resentfully speculate that her third husband Tea Cake probably took all her money and abandoned her for a younger woman. At the same time, they admire and envy her physical beauty. Most important is her hair, which is described as “the great rope of black hair swinging to her waist and unraveling in the wind like a plume.

Because of its length and straightness, her hair is an essential, defining characteristic of Janie, as its the length and her willingness to wear it down represent her unconventional identity and her ability to ignore the communities‘ standards. Janie and her tumultuous relationship with the established community of Eatonville is a theme explored throughout the novel.

The townspeople immediately begin gossiping about Janie and this gossip continues throughout the novel Janie strives to be an accepted pan of the community and at times is somewhat successful, at least based on the dialogue between those and the other town members.

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Her friend Pheoby, initially sitting with the gossiping women, then criticizes them and leaves to go and visit Janie, also bringing her food, the two women get along well, eating and talking amicably about Janie’s absence from Eatonville Phoebe is confused by Tea Cakes’ absence, so Janie goes into further details. Because the novel is written as a narrative, it gives the reader a specific point of view.

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For one, we immediately know that the story does not end too tragically because the reader knows Janie has survived to tell her story. The story is told in the third person, but much of the book is Janie telling Pheoby her story. She first reveals that as a child Janie didn’t know she was African American until she was six years old.

This directly ties into Janie’s ambiguous identity, as does her straight, long hair. At the age of 16, Janie's grandmother catches her kissing a local boy and decides to marry Janie off to a wealthy farmer, Logan Hicks, for Janie’s own security. At Janie’s refusal, her grandmother recounts the hardships of her youth; she was born into slavery and raped by her master. Although her grandmother tells her she will fall in love with Logan because of his wealth and prestige, she does not. Soon her grandmother dies while Janie becomes even more disillusioned with her marriage. Hearst often examines the connection or lack thereof of relationships and love In her first marriage, Janie does not feel love for Logan, although he treats her well by many standards, and instead falls in love with Joe Starks, who she calls Jody. Jody is well-dressed and admits that he has saved up a good deal of money that he is taking to a newly built town in Florida, Eatonville. Jody and Janie meet up secretly for two weeks before he asks her to leave Logan and marry him.

After a fight with Logan, Janie runs away and marries Jody at first chance. This passage is drawing a distinct contrast between love and relationships, which is shown in all three marriages. They arrive in Eatonville which consists of a dozen shacks on 50 acres. Jody demands to see the mayor and upon being told there is none, purchases 200 more acres for Eatonville. After building a store and profiting from selling lots from his 200 acres, Jody is quickly named mayor. A local citizen suggests that Janie make a speech, but Jody stops her, “...but mah wife don't know nothin’ ‘bout no speech-makin’. Ah never married her for nothin’ like dat. She’s uh woman and her place is in de home." As Jody‘s wealth and power over the town increases, Janie experiences both respect and envy gossiping one day, the townspeople wonder how Jody and Janie get along, specifically noting her long, beatttifttl hair and how Jody makes her tie it up when she‘s working.

This example of the difference between love and relationships, as Jody feels now that Janie is his wife he can mold her as he pleases while Janie simply wants to spend more time with him, evidenced by him not allowing her to speak and tying up her hair. “This business of the head»rag irked her endlessly but Jody was set on it. Her hair was NOT going to show in the store... That was because Joe never told Janie how jealous he was." Over time Jody begins to treat Janie worse, not only exerting control over her like he had previously, but he also begins to berate her in front of customers Janie, with personal strength as one of her main attributes, stays silent, although inside she begins to despise Jody’s behavior. Janie shows this strength publically when she hears Jody berates a woman asking for food for her and her children. When Jody cuts her a smaller piece of meat than she needs and the other men insult her for even asking, Janie can longer hold her tongue. Her final words are “It’s so easy to make yo’—self out God Almighty when you ain’t got nothin’ tuh strain against but women and chickens."

Jody tells her she’s too “mouthy” and orders her to get a checkerboard. As the years pass by, Jody becomes old and his body ugly out of self-resentment, he begins insulting Janie’s appearance. One day, Jody sees Janie mistakenly cuts tobacco for a customer and Jody loudly criticizes Janie. In response, Janie insults Jody’s age and looks at once, calling him, “You’re whut’s left after he died.“ (86) While Jody is on his deathbed, Janie comes in to see him one last time, but seeing him cold still, she begins to berate him, insulting his ego and his need for control. She insults him as he dies. Then she turns to the mirror and removes her head-rag, realizing how beautiful she still is after Jody’s funeral, she wears her hair in a long braid again. When she begins to wear white so shortly after the funeral, many men seek Janie’s attention, but she enjoys her newfound independence. While working at the store, a man, who insists on being called Tea Cake walks in and invites Janie to play checkers he stays around the store, gently flirting and making Janie laugh, then walks her home and bids her good night without any sexual advances.

Once Tea Cake and Janie are together openly, the town begins to gossip about the age difference and wealth difference. No one can understand why she would date a younger, poorer man. Janie does not care, claiming Tea Cake treats her how she likes to be treated and that she thought they had something deeper. When Janie leaves Eatonville with Tea Cake, he steals 200 dollars from her and disappears. Although Janie is worried he‘s left for good, Tea Cake returns later that night and admits he spent the money on chicken for a party with the railroad workers. He promises to return the money by gambling and comes back with 320 dollars, but also a cut from a sore loseri these actions make Janie trust Tea Cake and she tells him about her 1200 dollars in the bank Tea Cake says he wants to move to the Everglades. Once there, Janie is completely enamored with Tea Cake as they spend their time playing the guitar, gardening, shooting guns and playing dice.

She realizes how much she enjoys this life compared to Eatonville, where everybody gossiped constantly. When Janie finds Tea Cake wrestling with another woman, she tries to beat him, which again adds to the ambiguous nature of her character, but he holds her off and wild anger turns into extreme passion. When a new man arrives in town, Tea Cake beats Janie, though she harbors no ill will towards him. She seemingly believes that violence comes from passion. When word spreads that a hurricane is coming, Janie tells Tea Cake as long as she’s with him she does not care what happens, of the three husbands, Janie is most passionate about Tea Cake. During a flood from the hurricane, Janie is attacked by a dog and Tea Cake jumps in to save her. The dog bites Tea Cake’s face right before he stabs it to death.

Several weeks later Tea Cake returns home with a bad fever and is diagnosed with rabies, The rabies makes Tea Cake insane and he grabs a pistol that Janie has Set to have three empty chambers before any bullets fire. He fires three times and Janie, realizing she has no choice, shoots him with a rifle. At her trial, Janie professes her love forTea Cake and while the African American community seems to have turned against her, the exclusively white, male jury find her innocent. The white women crowd around her in solidarity while her friends leave her without any comfort or forgiveness Janie returns to Eatonville, where she tells Pheoby that she knows the town will gossip about her, but she no longer Cares. Her final thoughts are about Tea Cake and everything he had shown her in the relationship versus love dynamic, Tea Cake was by far her most loving husband. Ultimately, he died to keep her alive.

Updated: May 03, 2023
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Love and Relationships in Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. (2023, Feb 21). Retrieved from

Love and Relationships in Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston essay
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