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In Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie discovers herself through her relationships with Logan Killicks, Joe Starks, and Tea Cake. Each marriage brings her closer to that one thing in life she dreams to have, love. Janie is a woman who has lived most of her life the way other people thought she should. Her mother abandons her when she is young, and her grandmother (Nanny), raises her. Nanny has a very strict moral code, and specific ideas about freedom and marriage.
As the novel opens Janie creates a visual demonstration which lets us know that there is a large difference between her and the other women in the novel (n.p.). She becomes one with her sexuality after lying under a pear tree. Hurston stated, "Janie saw her life like a great tree in leaf with the things suffered, things enjoyed, things done and undone. Dawn and doom was in the branches" (pg.8).This leads to her eventually kissing a young man by the name of Johnny Taylor. Nanny sees her kiss him, and says that Janie is now a woman. (pg. 12) She wants her to marry now and suggests that Janie marry Logan Killicks because he has shown an interest in Janie by always coming around their house. (pg. 13) Janie does not want to marry Logan because she feels he's unattractive and he does not resemble her image of a blooming pear tree. With this being said, Nanny leads Janie to believe no matter who she marrys, she will eventually learn to love them (Kubitschek 23). Janie hated Nanny because of the choices she made for her (pg.85). Thereafter, Nanny arranged for Janie to marry Logan Killicks. She felt that getting married to him will protect Janie from the burdens of being a black woman. Janie did nothing but obey.
Hurston wrote, "The vision of Logan Killicks was desecrating the pear tree, but Janie didn't
know how to tell Nanny that. She merely hunched over and pouted at the floor" (Hurston 13). Logan Killicks couldn't give this type of love that Janie is eagered to find. He might not have loved her at all. To him, Janie was just another working put of hands. He cared for her almost like another man. He was thoughtless of her feelings, her hopes, and her objectives. Janie was toiled hard by Logan.
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The matrimony between Joe Starks and Janie is built on money as well as security. With this being said, she leaves Logan Killicks for him because he promises her everything. Joe promises Janie that he will treat her like a queen. She tells him how Logan forced her to do yard work, but Joe explains to her that with him, she will never have to do anything unless she wants to. The thought of living the "good life" excites Janie.Joe is a wealthy young man who sweeps her off her feet into a new atmosphere. They start a new life in a town called Eatonville. Since her husband is a prominent figure in Eatonville, he is elected mayor. She is happy to be the mayor's wife and thinks that she is in love. Jody is in charge of the whole town and advises her to stay at home while he takes care of everything else. Joe's confidence makes her feel secure. However, Joe's controlling nature toward Janie is revealed when she is asked to speak at his inauguration. Joe prevents this by "taking the floor himself," stating, "mah wife don't know nothin' 'bout no speech-makin'. ... She's uh woman and her place is in de home" (p. 51). Just as Joe Starks "cows the town" (p. 55), forcing them to "bow down to him" (p. 59), he dominates his wife. Joe will not allow her to wear her hair long, instead making "her keep her head tied up lak some ole 'oman" so that none of the other men "might touch it round dat store" (p. 59). He keeps her out of the lively conversations and checkers matches held on their store's front porch (p. 82).
As Janie moves from one bad relationship to another, her voice strengthens and she becomes a more mature individual. In the beginning of the novel, she thinks that marriage constitutes love and that spouses loving each other was a given. (Hurston 20) In addition, she also believed that marriage took away all loneliness. Later, she has the courage to tell Jody that he has to die to find out that "you got tuh pacify somebody beside yo'self . . . You ain't tried to pacify nobody but yo'self. Too busy listening to yo' own big voice" (82).. Janie is actually asserting herself with Jody and he cannot handle the power of her words. Another significant event in this scene occurs when Janie considers what happens in making a voice out of a man. His big voice does make a big woman out of her but not in the way that he anticipates. As Janie looks into the mirror, she realizes that the young girl she used to be is gone and she was now a woman.
The next man Janie meets is Tea Cake. Tea Cake makes her no promises and has nothing to offer her except his love, differentiating himself from his predecessors who pledged to meet her every desire. Janie does not expect much of the relationship, and is therefore amply rewarded. Tea Cake's devotion and simplistic adoration for her, which may have been partially due to the gap in their ages, is a breath of fresh air to Janie after her previous marital imprisonments. She feels infinitely free to do as she wishes without losing her much-valued feelings of affection. As Janie and Tea Cake spend time talking together, sharing activities together, and simply enjoying one another's company, Janie sees that Tea Cake, a younger man with no material wealth, knows, accepts, and values her as no one else has ever done.
Ironically, Tea Cake is the one man Janie marries who cannot materially "protect", her; in fact, it is Janie who provides for him. But by now, Janie knows that, contrary to what Nanny always suggested to her, who a man is, is more important than what he has. Only after Janie has loved and been loved by Tea Cake, despite Tea Cake's early death, does Janie begin to free herself, and indeed feel eager, to tell her friend Pheoby all that has happened since they last spoke. (n.p.) Tea Cake's love, acceptance, and understanding free Janie to reveal her selfhood, through unrestrained language, and with a mature, confident, authentic voice. Janie easily leaves her elevated position in the community to begin a new life with Tea Cake. Hurston implies that the pursuit of individual dreams can bring intellectual freedom, an enlightenment that is infinitely more valuable than material wealth. Despite obvious differences in age and social status Janie at last seems to have found true love.
Essentially, Tea Cake's love, acceptance, and understanding are what free Janie to at last reveal her selfhood, Janie's final horizon was self-preservation. While all her other horizons had been imaginary, reflecting her longing to grow up or to grow somehow 'bigger' than she thought she was, the decision to kill Tea Cake rather than let him kill her was the first adult act Janie performed. It was the final horizon, but it could not have been crossed at all if Janie had not grown up enough to protect herself. She must testify at her murder trial, and it is easy for her. Despite her painful loss and her pain at causing Tea Cake's death, her love for him is obvious and gains her an acquittal from an all-white jury of men. Janie, by then, is no longer a light-skinned, raven-haired beauty who would be attractive to them to account for their decision. Therefore, it must be her voice that secures her release. Janie sails through the trial. Moreover, she gives Tea Cake a truly extravagant burial, befitting for the agent that brought her to the final horizon she needed to find, herself.