A Voice With Experience
In Zora Neale Hurston’s novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, many critics have argued over whether or not the main character, Janie, finds her voice by the end of the novel. Yet many seem to be confused as to what her "voice" is. Her voice is her ability to express her thoughts and display her emotions verbally. Many relate the question of Janie’s voice to her amount of emotional strength (her ability to confront her problems or run away from the current situation rather than be isolated in it), yet these things are a completely different matter entirely. While Janie’s emotional strength varies throughout the novel, her voice is always there.
Her voice is proven from the beginning when she argued about housework with her first husband, Logan, and it became even more evident in her relationship with her next husband, Joe. She did not speak to Joe often because he did not mean much to her and she did not waste her energy on always arguing with him. But when she found a subject on which she wanted to speak her mind, she always did. Many seem to think that Janie found her voice towards the end of the novel because that is when she spoke most often. Yet the reason she spoke more is because she had someone who she cared about and to whom she wanted to speak to (her husband, Tea Cake). In her trial in defense of killing Tea Cake (the situation in which many argue that Janie’s silence was proof that she had not yet found her voice), her silence has nothing to do with whether or not she is emotionally strong or has a voice. Her silence is the result of the love she felt with Tea Cake. Though she felt very emotional, Janie understood that love was not something you could express verbally and she therefore chose not to speak.
In Janie’s first relationship with Logan, it becomes clear that Janie had both her voice and emotional strength. Expecting that marriage would bring love, Janie married a farmer, Logan Killicks, at a young age. Yet her relationship with him was not what she expected. He was ugly and lazy and didn’t even give a thought to Janie’s feelings. He forced her to do extra work and never treated her like the woman she was. When after hours of housework, and Logan asked her to chop wood for him one day, Janie finally felt that she needed to protest, saying "...
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...e is saying that you have to experience love to understand it, and that it would have done her no good to try to express verbally what she felt for Tea Cake.
At the end of the novel, Janie walked away from the trial with both her voice that had been with her throughout her whole life, the emotional strength that she had gained through her love with Tea Cake (and which had continued even after his death), and something that she had not known before: experience. (Experience with death, love, marriage, and life in general.) Many argue that Janie found her voice towards the end of the novel because that is when she spoke the most. Yet Janie had had her voice throughout, from her loveless marriage with Logan, to her abusive relationship with Joe, and through her heavenly time spent with Tea Cake. Tea Cake didn’t help Janie find her voice, but instead just gave her something to use it on. Yet while critics will argue forever over the questions of Janie’s voice and emotional strength, it is unquestionable that she walked away from it all with a new sense of knowledge and experience. And with these things, Janie was cabable of dealing with whatever new challenge came her way.
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