Finding Her Voice in Their Eyes Were Watching God

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Janie Crawford, the main character of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, strives to find her own voice throughout the novel and, in my opinion, she succeeds even though it takes her over thirty years to do it. Each one of her husband’s has a different effect on her ability to find that voice.


The first time Janie had noticed this was when he was appointed mayor by the town’s people and she was asked to give a few words on his behalf, but she did not answer, because before she could even accept or decline he had promptly cut her off, “ ‘Thank yuh fuh yo’ compliments, but mah wife don’t know nothin’ ’bout no speech-makin’/Janie made her face laugh after a short pause, but it wasn’t too easy/…the way Joe spoke out without giving her a chance to say anything on way or another that took the bloom off things” (43). This would happen many times during the course of their marriage. He told her that a woman of her class and caliber was not to hang around the low class citizens of Eatonville. In such cases when he would usher her off the front porch of the store when the men sat around talking and laughing, or when Matt Boner’s mule had died and he told her she could not attend its dragging-out, and when he demanded that she tie up her hair in head rags while working in the store, “This business of the head-rag irked her endlessly. But Jody was set on it. Her hair was NOT to show in the store” (55). He had cast Janie off from the rest of the community and put her on a pedestal, which made Janie feel as though she was trapped in an emotional prison. Over course of their marriage, he had silenced her so much that she found it better to not talk back when got this way. His voice continuously oppresses Janie and her voice. She retreats within herself, where still dreams of her bloom time, which had ended with Joe, “This moment lead Janie to ‘grows out of her identity, but out of her division into inside and outside. Knowing not mix them is knowing that articulate language requires the co-presence of two distinct poles, not their collapse into oneness’ ” (Clarke 608). The marriage carries on like this until; Joe lies sick and dying in his death bed.

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She confronts him about the way he’s treated her. “ ‘…you wasn’t satisfied wid me de way Ah was. Naw! Mah own mid had tuh be squeezed and crowded out tuh make room for yours in mine/You ain’t tried tuh pacify nobody but yo’self. Too busy listening tuh yo’ own big voice/All dis bowin’ down, all dis obedience under yo’ voice—dat ain’t whut Ah rushed off down de road tuh find out about you’ ” (87). With this Joe Starks died. Janie had finally found voice and was free to be herself. When he dies, she took a hard look at herself in the mirror and took her hair down and saw, “The weight, the length, the glory was there” (87). Her hair signified her power, strength, and individuality and that because she was oppressed for many years by does not mean that she had lost the sense of who she is. “…Janie’s first two marriages fail to satisfy her desire for emotional and physical satisfaction because neither marriage itself nor physical attraction is reliable indicator of potential partner’s ability to maintain to replicate the pear tree” (Bealer 319). Logan and Joe were flawed; they did not nurture her dream of the pear tree. Tea Cake brings to life this dream.

The relationship between Tea Cake and Janie is one that is filled with love and laughter. Tea Cake was smiling, “At five-thirty a tall man came into the place/‘Good evenin’’ Mis’ Starks,’ he said with a sly grin as if they had a good joke together” (Hurston 94). From the time he met Janie, to the time he married her. Whenever he was around her, she could not help but smile. He began to hang around the store more often, and he and Janie became friends. He convinced her to adventurous things like, go fishing, take up shooting game, and even playing checkers. She feels free enough to be herself around him, because he does not put in an emotional prison as Joe did. After Joe died she purges her soul of the way he treated her, which prepared her for the love she receives from Tea Cake when he enters her life. It was not too long after that he began courting Janie. Just like the blossoms she witnessed blooming on the pear tree as a young girl; Tea Cake caused her to blossom again, “Though Tea Cake is no ‘Janie’s liberator,’ his style of love and intersubjectivity it invites Janie’s memory of Erotic liberation, at least temporarily, a possibility” (Bealer 319). The kind of love that Tea Cake and her share is the kind she had imagined since she was a young girl under the pear tree.He and her eventually marry and move to a place called the “muck” in the Florida Everglades. Life in the muck is the polar opposite of life in Eatonville. nstead of a big, white house, she lived in a shack by Lake Okechobee. Instead of sitting around all day looking like the wife of a mayor, Janie went out into the fields and picked beans. Their life in the muck was a simple and after a long day of work their shack became the center for everyone to gather and relax after a long at of working out in the fields. Be that as it may, life was not always that uncomplicated and simple. Take for instance when Tea Cake hits Janie. Mrs. Turner, a mulatto women who owned an eating place in the muck, dislike like black people—especially Tea Cake. One day he came home and heard her talking about talking about him and how she wanted Janie to meet her brother. “When Mrs. Turner’s brother came and she brought him over to be introduced, Tea Cake had brainstorm: (Hurston 147). He whipped Janie not because he was angry at her but to reassure himself that she still belonged to him, and to show her show her that he was in charge. Marla L. Weitzman says that after this beating, “seeing Janie’s independence is quite difficult once the narrator uses the word “possession.” And not only does Tea Cake hit Janie, but, by doing so, he also earns the regard of the community of men” (Weitzman 62). Another instance where life in the muck is once again disturbed is the hurricane. The hurricane is a major life changing event for Janie, and her relationship with Tea Cake. It is a chaotic force of nature that uproots Janie and Tea Cake’s life on the muck, causing them to flee the destructive force, “The monstopolous beast had left his bed. The two hundred miles an hour wind had loosed his chains. He seized hold of his dikes and ran forward until he met the quarters; uprooted them like grass and rushed on after his supposed-to-be-conquerors, rolling the dikes, rolling houses, rolling the people in the houses along with other timbers. The sea was walking the earth with a heavy heel” (Hurston 162). It stands for anarchy and turmoil. While fleeing the hurricane, Janie was caught and carried away by the wind, “She screamed terribly and released the roofing which sailed away as she plunged downward into the water” (165). She grabbed onto the tail of cow that was swimming by with a rabid dog on its back—that made to attack Janie while she was holding on to the cow’s tail. Tea fought off the dog to save Janie, but was bitten in the process. About four weeks after the hurricane had passed, they had returned to the muck, and Tea Cake began to show the symptoms of the bite he had received from the mad dog, “About the middle of the fourth week Tea Cake came home early one afternoon complaining of his head. Sick headache that made him lie down for a while” (173). Has time went on he became even sicker; he started to sleep with a gun under his pillow, which concerned Janie. He became mistrustful, and thought Janie was cheating on him, when in reality she was off trying to find medicine to make him better, “Janie saw a changing look come in his face. Tea Cake was gone. Something else was looking out of his face/And she was beginning to feel fear of this strange thing in Tea Cake’s body” (181-182). He had gone mad, because he had contracted rabies from the bite of the mad dog. The hurricane was like a baptism of their relationship, because it irrevocably changed it. He became so mad from the rabies bite that one night he tried to kill Janie, “Saw the ferocious look in his eyes and went mad with fear…/She threw up the barrel of the rifle in frenzied hope and fear/He paid no more attention to the pointing gun than if it were Janie’s dog finger/The fiend in him must kill and Janie was the only living thing he saw/The pistol and the rifle rang out almost together” (184). This key moment in the novel demonstrates Janie finally standing up from herself. She chose to save her own life.

Shooting Tea Cake is Janie’s affirmation that her life is worth living. Her voice is more than just speech; it is a positive sense of her. At her trial, even though she does not physically tell her story, Hurston made the jurors and spectators see that she could never kill Tea Cake out of spitefulness, “Despite critical concern with the narrator replacing Janie’s voice at this crucial moment, we must recognize that Janie has already made the reader see, that voice at this moment is subordinate to the ability to visualize, an effect that may be heightened by Hurston’s deflection of Janie’s story” (Clarke 610). Her voice as freed her because it creates a space in which she can relate her experience to the world. Her voice as freed her because it creates a space in which she can relate her experience to the world. “Though Janie does learn to assert her own will and subjectivity throughout the course of the novel, she must constantly combat the pervasive hierarchies that make black women vulnerable to oppression” (Bealer 312). Not only does she combat these hierarchies and win, but the victories have made her a stronger woman. As the story began so it ended, with Janie telling her story to her best friend, Pheoby. Janie recounting her story to Pheoby, does not undermine her ability to tell her story directly in her own voice. She tells her story to Pheoby so that Pheoby can tell it to others, but she cannot do so with the full understanding and this is why the story is told in a flashback, “ ‘Ah don’t mean to bother wid tellin’ ’em nothin’, Pheoby. ’Tain’t worth de trouble. You can tell’em what Ah say if you wants to. Dat’s just de same as me ’cause mah tongue is in mah friend’s mouf’ ” (Hurston 6). At the end of her story she tells Pheoby, “you got tuh go there tuh know there” (192). All of the men helped to broaden her horizon and shape her into the person she is. Her journey enlightened her to herself and her voice.






Works Cited

Bealer, Tracy L. " 'The Kiss Of Memory': The Problem Of Love In Hurston's 'Their Eyes Were Watching God'." African American Review 2/3 (2009): 311-327.

Clarke, Deborah. "The Porch Couldn't Talk For Looking": Voice And Vision In "Their Eyes Were Watching God." African American Review 35.4 (2001): 599-613

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God : A Novel / Zora Neale Hurston ; With A New Foreword By Mary Helen Washington. n.p.: New York : HarperCollins, 1999.

Racine, Maria J. "Voice And Interiority In Zora Neale Hurston's `Their Eyes.." African American Review 28.2 (1994): 283.

Stein, Rachel. "Remembering The Sacred Tree: Black Women, Nature And Voodoo In Zora Neale Hurston's Tell My Horse And Their Eyes Were Watching God." Women's Studies 25.5 (1996): 465-482.

Weitzman, Marla L. "Understanding Janie: From "The Bone Of Contention" To Their Eyes Were Watching God." Studies In American Humor 3.24 (2011): 59-69


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