In Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston portrays the religion of black people as a form of identity. Each individual in the black society Hurston has created worships a different God. But all members of her society find their identities by being able to believe in a God, spiritual or other. Grandma’s worship of Jesus and the “Good Lawd,” Joe Starks’ worship of himself, Mrs. Turner’s worship of white characteristics, and Janie’s worship of love, all stem from a lack of jurisdiction in the society they inhabit. All these Gods represent a need for something to believe in and work for: an ideal, which they wish to achieve, to aspire to. Each individual character is thus able to find himself or herself in the God that they worship.
Grandma embodies the initial faith of the book. Her faith is in the spiritual and her allegiance is to Jesus and God. Of all the characters in the book, Grandma has the least power. She is the only one who has lived through slavery and witnessed the change in history that took place after the Civil War. During slavery, she is not only materially oppressed through lack of power and material wealth, but also emotionally oppressed. Because of the oppressive society created by slavery, she has no control over her own life. The only way she can feel as if she has any power is to believe in a God. Her worship of God, therefore, becomes a representative power for her. She is empowered by the belief that she can at least count on God, if in nothing else. When she is escaping from the plantation she is against all odds, but she says that “And den de Good Lawd seen to it dat Ah wasn’t taken…But nothin’ never hurt me ’cause de La...
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... for him rids her of powerlessness, and she regards him as God, because she loves him and is ready to leave at his command. After Tea Cake’s death, Janie still clings to her love for him, which empowers her. As long as “he [isn’t] dead” she can contain the power of her love for him, and “he could never be dead until she herself had finished feeling and thinking” (pg. 193). Through her faith in love, Janie is able to conquer powerlessness. At the end of the book she displays her newfound power by telling her story.
Grandma’s spiritual convictions and the other characters’ material faiths caused them all to overcome their powerlessness. The title Their Eyes Were Watching God reveals each character’s belief in a different God. But all these different faiths had one purpose: to find one’s own self and sense of power in the society in which they inhabit.
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