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Comparing and Contrasting Relationships in Their Eyes Were Watching God and Seraph on the Suwanee

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Comparing and Contrasting Relationships in Hurston’s Novels, Their Eyes Were Watching God and Seraph on the Suwanee

In Their Eyes Were Watching God and Seraph on the Suwanee, Zora Neale Hurston creates two protagonists, Janie and Arvay, and depicts their rich relationships with Tea Cake and Jim, respectively. This brief paper compares these two women and their interaction with their husbands. Contrasting the similarities of these relationships helps underscore deeper themes that Hurston draws from two ostensibly different women.

Tea Cake and Jim bear substantial resemblance to each other. They both carry a rather unsavory reputation around their towns, they both woo their new wives aggressively; they even take care of their women with occasional recourse to illegal improprieties such as liquor distilling and gambling (although they tend to spend their profits quite differently). Both men reduce to child-like behavior in key moments of affection with their wives; Tea Cake favors having his head in Janie’s lap, while Jim prefers his head resting on Arvay’s breast. Perhaps most crucially, both men exhibit communication and behavior that make their wives frantic with jealousy and fear. Jim, in his teasing of Arvay, and Tea Cake in his long absences, especially right after his marriage to Janie in

Jacksonville, make their respective wives boil over with internal anguish.

Janie and Arvay respond to their men in similar ways as well. Both women swing from extremes of doubt and distrust to passionate, all-encompassing love for their husbands. Moreover, both women reconfigure themselves to adjust to the man’s world, as when Janie moves to the Everglades with Tea Cake, and when Arvay goes out to sea with Jim on his fishing b...

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...her silent thoughts and how they pulled her away from her love for Logan and Jody, now those same silent thoughts preserve Tea Cake for her in perpetuity. And in Seraph on the Suwanee, Jim’s departure allows Arvay to realize the chasm between her and her past, and in so doing, realize that her struggles portray a woman destined to be a caregiver. For both Janie and Arvay, inner turmoil is quelled into a role that reconciles both themselves and their relationship with their men. And, perhaps most remarkably, this idealization of their partners persists despite – indeed, is even enhanced by – the fact that both women see their former love interests, those who came before Tea Cake and Jim, as now standing on cracked or even shattered pedestals. Both Janie and Arvay in the end take comfort in their new-found roles and those men who best compel them to adopt these roles.
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