Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God

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Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God

“’…but she don’t seem to mind at all. Reckon dey understand one ‘nother.’” A woman’s search for her own free will to escape the chains of other people in Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God.

In the continuing philosophical debate of free will versus determinism, the question arises as to whether or not free will exists. Do people really have the capability of making decisions on their own? OR Is life already determined, and whatever we do is (and always was) the only thing that we could have done at that time, conditions being what they were? Given the circumstances in Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, I would argue that, while free will does exist, in my view, and a person can choose most of their actions through careful decision making, the main character, Janie, has the majority of her life planned out for her already. Whatever Janie does is governed by the laws of cause and effect; every one of her actions has a reaction. In Janie’s quest to find herself, she does make some decisions on her own, but her decisions only lead her to her destiny, so, how can we say that Janie really has free will? The truth is that you cannot determine if Janie has free will or not. Even though it is a fiction novel, and the reader is aware that the author has Janie already figured out, we can still say that Janie does not have free will. Janie’s actions are mainly determined for her by people, events, and other things out of her control. It is because of Janie’s character and personality that the reader can know she does not have the complete power to take her life into her own hands. Janie is an African American woman which is enough to determine a heavy amount of her future for her. Hurston tries to give Janie a chance to think for herself, but, mostly, Janie does not have the power to take on these situations.

According to philosophy professor Steven M. Cahn, premise number two of the argument for determinism states that, “In the case of every event that occurs, there are antecedent conditions, known or unknown, that ensure that the event will occur.” Zora Neale Hurston was aware of the argument for determinism. Hurston makes her reader believe that, at times, Janie does have free will, but her life is already planned out. With enough knowledge of Janie’s character, the rea...

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...gether. It is not until the end of the story that Janie begins to think for herself and find out who she really is.

Janie’s life was planned out for her. She did make a few decisions on her own like when she left her first husband, Logan Killicks, but Janie only brought about more problems for herself by running off with Joe Starks. All of her husbands had control over her because she allowed herself to appear weak and vulnerable. Janie did not know any better. Nanny had kept Janie sheltered, and Janie had to learn about life on her own. At the end of the story, this happens, and Janie does seem to become a stronger person. But Janie never quite gets a grip on life because she is not a strong person to begin with. Her helplessness allows her to be controlled by other people. These other people like Nanny, Logan Killicks, Joe Starks, and Tea Cake make many of Janie’s decisions for her. Much of Janie’s life is determined for her by these people in her life as well as other things and events around her. Janie did not have the knowledge to take care of herself. She was not raised that way. Janie’s life was governed by the laws of cause and effect, and not by her own free will.
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