Janie’s Learning Experiences in Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Length: 1426 words (4.1 double-spaced pages)
"Janie saw her life like a great tree in leaf with the things suffered, things enjoyed, things done and undone. Dawn and doom was in the branches" (8). When Janie was a teenager, she used to sit under the pear tree and dream about being a tree in bloom. She longs for something more. When she is 16, she kisses Johnny Taylor to see if this is what she looks for. Nanny sees her kiss him, and says that Janie is now a woman. In Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie, the main character, is involved in three very different relationships. Zora Neale Hurston, the author, explains how Janie learns some valuable lessons about marriage, integrity, and love and happiness from her relationships with Logan Killicks, Joe Starks, and Tea Cake.
From Janie’s first relationship with Logan Killicks, she learns about marriage. Janie is forced to marry Logan by Nanny, Janie’s grandmother. Janie was really young and she did not have any plans on getting married, but Nanny wants Janie to marry someone soon: “Tain’t Logan Killicks Ah wants you to have, baby, it’s protection. Ah ain’t gittin’ ole, honey, Ah’m done ole. One mornin’ soon, now, de angel wid de sword is gointuh stop by here. De day and de hour is hid from me, but it won’t be long. Ah as de Lawd when you was uh infant in mah arms to let me stay here till you got grown.
He done spared me to see de day. Mah daily prayer now is tuh let dese golden moments rolls on a few days longer till Ah see you safe in life” (15). Nanny tells Janie that she is old now and her time is almost up. She wants to marry Janie off so that she knows Janie will be taken care of. Nanny does not want Janie to go through everything her and Leafy, Janie’s mother went through: They were both raped by white man. After about two months and two weeks of marriage, Janie does not feel the love that she thought would happen. Janie does not love Logan: “Cause you told me Ah mus goingter love him, and, and Ah don’t. Maybe if somebody was to tell me how, Ah could do it” (23). Janie does not feel good about the marriage, but she has hope that it will get better. She thinks that with marriage comes love. Logan is old and nasty and he ruins the image of the blooming pear tree that Janie dreams about. She realizes that marriage does not necessarily equal love, and from this understanding, she matures into a woman and runs off with Joe Starks.
After marring Joe Starks, Janie learns about integrity. Joe and Janie go to Eatonville to buy land. Joe wants to start a new business in a city run by blacks. Joe does not represent the marriage that Janie wants, the kind that feels like what it's like to be under a pear tree, but he does represent a change in lifestyle: “Janie pulled back a long time because he did not represent sun-up and pollen and blooming trees, but he spoke for far horizon. He spoke for change and chance" (29). Joe becomes the mayor of Eatonville, changing Janie’s life style completely. A couple of the town members wonder about the way he treats Janie because they notice that she does not talk very much, and that Joe makes her wear her hair all tied up and hidden. Joe does not want anyone looking at Janie. He also wants her to look better than the other women in town. He spends a lot of money on her, but that does not make her happy. Janie feels like Joe is holding her down “She was a rut in the road. Plenty of life beneath the surface but it was kept beaten down by the wheels” (76). She silently agrees to Jody’s arrogant personality and does her duties while ignoring her emotions. She considers running away but doubts that she can find refuge anywhere, feeling that she has grown unattractive. She feels her spirit isolates from her body; she watches herself work at the store and offer to Jody while her mind is really in a different place. This apathy allows her to accept a life that she has grown to hate. She is less and less satisfied with Joe and she speaks her mind less and less. Janie finally decides to speak up and tell Joe how she really feels before he dies from a kidney failure. After Joe’s death, she feels free of him and the restrictions he placed on her. One day before Janie closes the store, she meets a guy. His name is Vergible Woods, but people call him Tea Cake for short.
During Janie’s relationship with Tea Cake, she learns about happiness. Janie and Tea Cake make small talk and he makes her laugh. He walks her home after work. He is a gentleman. He tips his hat at the door, and suggests that they go fishing, and they do. Janie loves it: “It was so crazy digging worms by lamp light and setting out for Lake Sabelia after midnight that she felt like a child breaking rules. That's what made Janie like it." (102). Janie was happy, she feels finally free. Janie loves spending time with Tea Cake. They do many activities together like hunting, fishing, movies, play card games, etc. Janie gets a new blue satin dress, earrings, high heels, and a necklace that Tea Cake picked out for her to marry him in. She wants to make Tea Cake proud. Tea Cake tells Janie that they are going to Eatonville to work on the muck because “Folks don’t do nothin’ down dere but make money and fun and foolishness” (128). Life on the muck is exciting. They pick beans during the day, and sing, dance, and gamble at night. Tea Cake plays his guitar, makes jokes, and his house becomes the meeting house on the muck. Janie thinks about her old life in Eatonville sometimes. This life is much better. Everyone is always laughing and telling stories. Janie even feels like she can contribute to the story telling.
Besides learning about happiness from Tea Cake, Janie learns about love. Before they get married, Tea Cake tries to spend as much time as possible with Janie. They do many activities together. Janie lets Tea Cake spend the night at her house, “Janie awoke the next morning by feeling Tea Cake almost kissing her breath away. Holding her and caressing her as if he feared she might escape” (107). Janie cannot help but think about Tea Cake. He represents the fulfillment of the dream that Janie has always had. She relates their relationship to the pear tree. Every time he leaves she thinks about him for a while. She is in love. Now, Janie is going to do what she wants. She is bored with her current life, and feels there is so much more to see and do. With Tea Cake, she can do those things. By just sitting high on porches, she cannot: "He looked like the love thoughts of women. He could be a bee to a blossom - a pear tree blossom in the spring. He seemed to be crushing scent out of the world with his footsteps. Crushing aromatic herbs with every step he took. Spices hung about him. He was a glance from God" (106). Some of the other men and women are jealous over Tea Cake and Janie's relationship. The men want a woman like Janie, who won't fight back when they hit them. The women want a man like Tea Cake, someone who will hold them close and care for them. After a hurricane on Everglades, Tea Cake is bit by a mad dog. Odd things start happening to Tea Cake. He gets angry easily, and tries to kill Janie. But she shoots him first and thanks him for giving her the chance to love.
Janie goes through a lot of changing experiences. She is involved in three relationships. Each relationship different than the other. She learns a lot from the three men. From Logan Killicks she learns about marriage, from her relationship with Joe Starks she learns about integrity, and from Tea Cake, she learns about love but most importantly about happiness. Life is full of challenges and learning experiences, everything we go through makes us stronger and better people.