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Janie's Search for Identity in Their Eyes Were Watching God

 

        In the novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, there

are many lessons on a person's search for identity.  Janie's search for identity

throughout this book is very visible.  It has to do with her search for a name,

and freedom for herself.  As she goes through life her search takes many turns

for the worse and a few for the better, but in the end she finds her true

identity.  Through her marriages with Logan, Joe, then Tea Cake she figures out

what is for her and how she wants to live.  So in the end, she is where she

wants to be.

 

        In Janie's early life she lived with her grandmother, Nanny.  Nanny and

Janie were pretty well off and had the privilege to live in the yard of white

folks.  While Janie was growing up she played with the white children.­  While

she was in this stage, she was faced with much criticism and was called many

names, so many that everyone started calling her alphabet, "'cause so many

people had done named me different names."  Soon she started piecing together

what she knew of her odd identity.  Then one day she saw herself in a photograph

and noticed that she looked different, that she had dark skin, and she said,

"before Ah seen de picture Ah thought Ah wuz just like de rest."  From this

point, Janie fell into somewhat of a downward spiral, setting her off of the

path toward finding her own identity in society.  Finally when she was older

Nanny saw her doing somethings under the pear tree that she thought were

unacceptable.  Nanny quickly arranged a marriage between Janie and a well-off

local man, Logan Killicks.  In this marriage Janie resisted.  She felt as if she

was losing her freedom was well as her identity, she wasn't Janie anymore she

was now Mrs. Logan Killicks, and she was somewhat obligated to do what he wanted.

Not long into this marriage, Janie has had enough, and when the chance to go

away with a smooth, romantic man, she takes the chance.

 

        The man Janie left Logan for was named Joe Starks.  Joe was a smart man

who started his own town, Eatonville.  In the beginning of her relationship with,

Joe, she felt loved, something she never really felt while she had been with

Logan.  At first, when she ran away with Joe, she felt as if she was finding her

new identity, but all there was for her to find was a great maze not always

heading her toward her new identity.  While she was with Joe she felt as if she

had a position of subservience to Joe, he did not see her as an equal.  When Joe

was nominated to be mayor, and the people wanted to hear from Mrs. Mayor Starks,

Joe said, "mah wife don't know nothin' 'bout speech-makin'."  What he was saying

was that Janie wasn't there for her smarts, she was there to be his wife, to

beat for the show, to run the store and the post office, and most of all to be

Mrs. Mayor Starks.  Throughout this marriage Janie as though  she was losing

more and more of her identity and freedom in this marriage.  By the end of the

marriage, she did not have her kitchen and house work that she loved to do, and

she had lost her name.

 

        After the timely demise of Joe, another man came into Janie's life,

Vergible Woods, a.k.a. Tea Cake.  He was an unpretentious man without the status

of high class, unlike Logan and Joe.  He was just what Janie had wanted.  Tea

Cake gave Janie the freedom to do whatever she wanted.  He allowed her to play

checkers and talk to whom ever she wanted.  The name issue arose again in this

relationship.  When Janie was with Tea Cake most of the people called her

"Janie."  By this time she had finally found her identity.  She was just an

average person who wanted freedom and who didn't always like having complete

security.  In her marriage to Tea Cake, Janie finally had peace and love.  She

wanted to do most of whatever Tea Cake was doing.  She did not feel any

obligation to work with Tea Cake, she just wanted to.  So when she returned to

Eatonville in her overalls, she had inside of her, true inner happiness and

knowledge of her identity.

 

        In this novel, Zora Neale Hurston shows many points on her view of a

woman's place in America in the twentieth century.  One of the points that she

makes is that women need to search for their independent identity.  That women

should not settle for a simple life of being put down and controlled by men.  If

women are dissatisfied in a marriage they need to move on toward the things that

do satisfy them.  She is also stating that women in the twentieth century can

hold their own in life.  They should become equals of men in work, because they

are not the stupid weaklings that should be forced to fill a roll of

subservience to men.  Finally her last comment about women's place in America in

the twentieth century is that women can be independent and don't have to lose

their identity when they get married.

 

        Janie had a hard time finding her identity.  Through her childhood, her

marriage to Logan, then Joe, and then finally Tea Cake, Janie has always hoped

to have an identity independent of anyone else.  Hurston's model for twentieth

century women is a very defined model.  One which holds freedom, an identity,

and an equal level of stature to men, all of which Janie strived to have.

Overall Janie's end identity is one that many women in the twentieth century

strive to behold.

 

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