Their Eyes Were Watching God

Their Eyes Were Watching God

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How Men Changed Janie For The Better

In Zora Neale Hurston’s, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie Crawford, the heroine of the novel is the first Black female character in African American fiction to embark on a journey of self discovery and achieve independence and self understanding (Novels For Students 303). She enters several marriages with many thoughts but of them all, she has universal expectations for each, those expectations are that she will be treated with the utmost respect and if it isn’t present at the beginning, "love will come" no matter what. Though she has three of her serious relationships, Janie does not ever have desires met, even with the one she loved most, Tea Cake. Janie spends much of her life in search of her happiness to find in the end that, she must first make herself happy before she can take enjoyment from others. In Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston, Janie Crawford goes through life as a young and spoiled child to a woman of deep endearment over the course of three marriages and relationships. She experiences three men whom are all flawed yet each gives Janie an important aspect of character. She takes from each man a sense of herself; from Logan Killicks, self-worth, from Joe Starks, self-respect, and from Tea Cake, her final husband, love and soulfulness.

In her first relationship, with a farm man named Logan Killicks, Janie, though shortly pampered, feels unloved and unrecognized as a woman as Killicks attempts to make Janie work the land and fields with him. Her marriage to Killicks was an arranged one by Janie’s grandmother, who felt Janie needed to be “married off” as soon as possible to a good man. Her grandmother wants security for her. Janie wants happiness and by trusting her grandmother, more or less, she takes Killicks hand in marriage. Killicks expectancies from Janie were assistance on his farm as well as tending to the many other things he felt were women’s chores. His love was shown through that and so, in essence, for Janie to comply with Killicks ideals was the only way she could demonstrate her love and compassion. Both were set quite deep in their ways prior to their first encounter. Both were very used to getting what they wanted and neither was in their marriage, with Janie having the worse end of the stick.

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Janie then expresses her final plea, in a prayer, for a change in her life. She says, "Lawd, you know mah heart. Ah done de best Ah could do. De rest is left to you" (Hurston 23). Janie eventually meets the man who will become her next lover and husband, Joe Starks. She leaves Killicks and his “love” behind and follows Joe Starks into his world, and into more problems for herself.

Jody Starks is a man whom is similar to Killicks and to the image of men Hurston seeks to portray, which is that men forever see the world through their own eyes and no other’s. Jody Starks is not entirely similar to Killicks in that he is much more willing to take what he wants by force. Though Janie does not realize it early on, Starks went after her hand in marriage to have another trophy to put on display in his confident and conceited lifestyle. Janie was merely a prize. If there was love, it was Starks love of himself and his marriage to his self-image amongst the townspeople. “During the early years at their twenty year relationship, Joe Starks jealousy sheltered her excessively; during the later years he often abused her because he resented her remaining young and attractive while he aged rapidly”(Contemporary Literary Criticism 216). Starks showed his true motives for Janie gradually as he constantly put her down amongst the townspeople and openly ridicule near every action she took. Starks needed the world and he needed it to know he was there. He felt the need to always be at the forefront and to always have a means to put himself higher than those around him, including obviously, his wife Janie. When Janie does “what she had never done before, that is, thrust herself into the conversation", relations between Janie and her conceited husband begin to really go down hill because Janie begins to gain stature and status. Starks’ feeling threatened is near immediate and makes him an even more irrational individual and it makes him a quite violent person. When Starks passes away, Janie is without all of the restrictions that made her existence constricting. She has the opportunity and chance to do what she pleases. She even has, more or less, the will to do so. She is not entirely selfish after Starks death but just as well, she is not to forgiving as she claims, "to my thinkin' mourning oughtn't tuh last no longer'n grief". As previously mentioned, Janie’s husbands serve as stepping stones for her progress as a person. They are merely tools to forward her emotional growth, even if she doesn’t see it that way exactly. After leaving behind Killicks and Starks, she takes more with her than bad memories. She has more confidence than ever. She is more proud than on previous occasions. Nonetheless however, she still feels a widening void in her; her emotional growth is not quite complete at this point.

When Janie comes across her next and final husband, she finds instantly a chemistry, a spark in the much younger man. Vergible “Tea Cake” Woods brings compassion and true love into the void that was much of Janie’s life. Tea Cake was everything, everything and more Janie needed and wanted. He made her remember the dreams she once had and the horizons she once felt she was nearing. For example, Tea Cake tries to boost Janie’s esteem when he tries to get her to really understand how beautiful she is. For the first time in a long time, Janie does go ahead and look into the mirror and finally gains assurance and some esteem. Even still though, Tea Cake had problems of his own. But his pursuit of Janie was real unlike her prior marriages. He struggled to change for Janie and to put aside his own wants. Even as Janie ended up finding the man of her dreams in Tea Cake, his untimely death ends all that could have been. Although deeply regretting having to kill Teacake in self defense, Janie comes full circle in her development. She now knows who she is and has found “peace” In the closing lines the narrator tells us, “She pulled in her horizon like a great fishnet.” Through this quote we realize Janie no longer has to seek for meaning outside herself in the world; she has found it within herself (Novels For Students 307). She has, at this point, become so much more of a person than when she was just a young and spoiled child with her grandmother back home. She is changed very much by Tea Cake as the quote “. . .ah never 'spected nothin', Tea Cake, but bein' dead from standin' still and tryin' tuh laugh. But you come 'long and made somethin' outa me. So Ah'm thankful fuh anything we come through together,” shows that she has evolved an understanding for the world and males as well as herself and her own self-worth.(Hurston 158)
At the end of her story “Janie pulls in the horizon that she has spent her whole life searching for. She calls her soul to come in and see. Where once her soul was separate from her, it is now a part of her”( Bookrags.com). As the novel shows, Janie is nearly a completely different person at the conclusion, due mostly to Tea Cake who taught Janie how to get closer to emotions she had always felt she would not. “The irony of the novel that Janie finally finds happiness and fulfillment as a woman and human being with Teacake when happiness had been defined for her all along in terms of social respectability and material possesions” (Contemporary Literary Criticism 224). Janie learns more about herself and had learned to respect herself even through the worst of marriages. Janie, though alone and at the conclusion of her story, has a better outlook on life than at any time prior. Janie Killick Starks Woods is the heroine of the novel is followed through three marriages. The first brings her to safety, the second brings her wealth and prestige and the last that truly brings her love (Contemporary Literary Criticism 241). She is moved by her struggle and with the motivation to make something of it with the time she has left in the world.

Bibliography
Bookrags.com. “Topic tracking: Identity”. 10 Nov. 2006. .

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. First Perennial Library: New York, 1937.

Neal, Larry. “Their eyes were watching God.” Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol 61. Ed. Matuz, Roger. Detroit: Gale, 1990

Roberts, Jason. “Their eyes were watching God.” Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol 30. Ed. Marowski, Daniel. Detroit: Gale, 1984

“Their eyes were watching God.” Novels for Students. Ed. Diane Telgen. Vol. 3. Detroit: Gale, 1998.

“Their eyes were watching God.” Novels for Students. Ed. Diane Telgen. Vol. 3. Detroit: Gale, 1998.

Turner, Darwin. “Their eyes were watching God.” Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol 30. Ed. Marowski, Daniel. Detroit: Gale, 1984.
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