Essay PreviewMore ↓
While reading Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, I was struck with the similarity of the attitude towards life which she shared with the leader of the French surrealist group, André Breton. Like Breton, Hurston's central value was the "marvelous," especially as it can be seen in the world of love. Breton defined the "marvelous" in contrast to the fantastic. "Le merveilleux, nul n'est mieux parvenu à le définir par opposition au `fantastique' qui tend, hélas, de plus en plus à le supplanter auprès de nos contemporains. C'est que le fantastique est presque toujours de l'ordre de la fiction sans conséquence, alors que le merveilleux luit à l'extrême pointe du mouvement vital et engage l'affectivité tout entière" (Preface 16). [The marvelous, there is no better way to define it than by opposition to the `fantastic,' which, alas, is increasingly tending to supplant it in the eyes of our contemporaries. The fantastic is almost always of the order of a fiction without consequence, whereas the marvelous shines at that extreme point of the spirit's ability of movement and entirely engages the emotions.] Hurston's famous work certainly achieves this definition of the "marvelous," but could we therefore say that she was a surrealist? She doesn't mention the French surrealists in her works, and yet, I think we can see her "contemporaneity" with the surrealist movement not only in terms of the times in which she lived, but also the concerns she dealt with, if we borrow yet another definition, this time from the American critic Kenneth Burke. "For instance, if modern New York is much like decadent Rome, then we are `contemporaneous' with decadent Rome, or with some corresponding decadent city among the Mayas, etc. It is in this sense that situations are `timeless,' `nonhistorical,' `contemporaneous'" (301302). Hurston, like the surrealists, shared an interest in "mad love" over other more materialistic values, and she found her interests incarnated in the island of Haiti, and its cult of Erzulie, the goddess of divine love. André Breton visited the island of Haiti, and was extremely interested in the poets and writers he encountered there, praising the Haitian poet Magloire St. Aude, for example, as the only contemporary who could equal the intensity of the recently deceased Apollinaire, Nerval, and Stephane Mallarmé ("Magloire St. Aude" 171). The Haitian goddess of love, Erzulie, could be, in turn, considered a sister of the beautiful goddess that "Nadja" represented in Breton's most important work, and Hurston's Their Eyes could be seen as one of the few books which can match the intensity of Nadja.
How to Cite this Page
"Their Eyes Were Watching God." 123HelpMe.com. 26 Jan 2020
Need Writing Help?
Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.Check your paper »
- Zora Neale Hurston’s tour de force novel Their Eyes Were Watching God is told through the voice of Janie Crawford. Janie yearns to experience true love, as well has have a sense of self worth. In her early years these two ideas are intermingled, one cannot simply exist without the other. As she ages and goes through the trials and tribulations of love, she comes to find that the two are not mutually exclusive. Janie speaks about her adolescent identity by saying “Dey all useter call me Alphabet ‘cause so many people had done named me different names” (Hurston 9), this goes to show that Janie did not have an identity growing up.... [tags: Marriage, Love, Their Eyes Were Watching God]
1166 words (3.3 pages)
- The traditional human existence encounters immense and miniscule transformations in predominant viewpoints directly affecting subsequent proceedings as individuals embark upon an expedition of lucid self-expression to explore personal identity. Literary pieces produced during times of revolution to gain equality and flourishing cultural advancement as artistic innovations, primarily in the Harlem Renaissance, communicates deliberately the liberation of the individuals frequently portrayed as characters.... [tags: Their Eyes Were Watching God]
785 words (2.2 pages)
- Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God 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.... [tags: Hurston Their Eyes Watching God Essays]
1505 words (4.3 pages)
- Zora Neale Hurston's They Eyes Were Watching God It’s no wonder that “[t]he hurricane scene in Zora Neale Hurston’s novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, is a famous one and [that] other writers have used it in an effort to signify on Hurston” (Mills, “Hurston”). The final, climactic portion of this scene acts as the central metaphor of the novel and illustrates the pivotal interactions that Janie, the protagonist, has with her Nanny and each of her three husbands. In each relationship, Janie tries to “’go tuh God, and…find out about livin’ fuh [herself]’” (192).... [tags: Hurston Eyes Watching God Essays]
2177 words (6.2 pages)
- Love is different for each and every person. For some, it comes easy and happens early in life. For others, such as Janie in Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, it happened much later in life after two unsuccessful marriages. Janie’s grandmother, Nanny raised Janie to be attracted to financial security and physical protection instead of seeking love. Nanny continually emphasized that love was something that was bound to happen after those needs were met; even though Nanny never married.... [tags: Their Eyes Watching God Hurston]
1663 words (4.8 pages)
- Love in Their Eyes Were Watching God Love plays a very important role in Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes were watching God. Janie spent her days looking for love. She thought of love just as she thought of the elements of springtime: Sunny days, bright skies, a bee pollinating pear tree blossoms. She searched far and wide for this kind of perfect love. Logan Killicks couldn't give this kind of love to Janie. He may not have loved her at all. To him, Janie was just another working set of hands.... [tags: Their Eyes Were Watching God Essays]
639 words (1.8 pages)
- Violence in Hurston’s Seraph on the Suwanee and Their Eyes Were Watching God Several scenes from Seraph on the Suwanee parallel scenes from Their Eyes Were Watching God. The scene beginning “The gun came up…” on page 183 of Their Eyes Were Watching God and ending “…pried the dead Tea Cake’s teeth from her arm” on page 184 echoes the scene in Seraph on the Suwanee beginning “She flung her hands up…” on page 145 and ending “ ‘…just as fast as you can’” on page 146. The premise for each scene is identical.... [tags: Their Eyes Watching God Seraph Suwanee]
884 words (2.5 pages)
- Imagery of the Sea in Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God and Seraph on the Suwannee “She Called In Her Soul to Come and See” Both Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God and Seraph on the Suwannee act as accounts of female recognition. The two protagonists of the novels, Janie and Arvay, come realize the significance of personal enjoyment of life for one’s self, and how such an awareness causes you to be surrounded you with people who love you for your own happiness. In both novels Hurston uses literal and figurative imagery of the sea as a symbol for this self-affirmation.... [tags: Their Eyes Watching God Seraph Suwanee]
589 words (1.7 pages)
- Searching for an Inner-Self in Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston In the novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston a young girl named Janie begins her life unknown to herself. She searches for the horizon as it illustrates the distance one must travel in order to distinguish between illusion and reality, dream and truth, role and self. (Hemenway 75). She is unaware of life?s two most precious gifts: love and the truth. Janie is raised by her suppressive grandmother who diminishes her view of life.... [tags: Hurston Eyes Watching God Essays]
11402 words (32.6 pages)
- Men in Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God tells the story of how a young woman, Janie, finds her place and identity in life. Deborah Clarke argues that slavery in this novel forces women to fade into the background, losing their identity and definition of self. Many critics, like Clarke, look at this work focusing on the development of a self-identity from a woman's perspective, completely ignoring the plight and journey of the men in the novel.... [tags: Hurston Their Eyes Watching God Essays]
2713 words (7.8 pages)
Wendy Dutton argues that it was Alice Walker's research into voodoo that first led to her rediscovery of Hurston. "Thus, it was Hurston's work on voodoo that began the literary love affair between Walker and Hurston that brought Hurston to contemporary readers. Since then she has been analyzed, anthologized--one could even say canonized. Despite this enthusiastic resurrection, Hurston's work on voodoo has been largely ignored" (Dutton 131). Dutton continues, "Hurston, in fact, worked on her voodoo material side by side with her fiction, often doing both kinds of writing in the same day. In 1937, while visiting the Isle de la Gonave outside PortauPrince, Hurston wrote her masterpiece, Their Eyes Were Watching God, in an astonishing seven weeks. . . . Often she worked on the novel late at night after a long day of collecting voodoo material for Tell My Horse. Voodoo remains the unnamed inspiration behind much of Hurston's writing in this period, the most productive time of her life" (146).
Following Wendy Dutton, I had a hunch that two of Hurston's male characters in Their Eyes Were Watching God were closely based on the very same voodoo gods which she presented in her folkloric collection, Tell My Horse. As in Breton's Nadja, where it is explained at the end of the novel that the woman Nadja was not a woman at all, but rather the representation of a deity, it occured to me that Hurston's character Teacake was almost more of a god than he was a man. In Breton's novel, he writes in the closing paragraphs phrases which closely resemble Hurston's closing phrases for Teacake. "La beauté, ni dynamique ni statique" (186) [Beauty, neither dynamic nor static]. Hurston writes, "Love is lak de sea. It's uh movin' thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it's different with every shore" (182).
An interest in gods, goddesses, and the marvelous unites Hurston and Breton in a search for those glorious lifegiving moments of love, to which their literary work is singularly dedicated. Hurston seeks a theological parallel in the religion of voodoo. Does the divine mental mapping provided by voodoo clarify and explain the thematics in Hurston's novel? Hurston describes two main families of gods in her book on voodoo, one good and one bad, one representing worldly power, and the other representing divine love, and they seem to correspond with two of the husbands she presents in her novel. However, none of the specific gods are presented with great clarity, for, as Hurston writes, "No one knows the name of every loa because every major section of Haiti has its own local variation" (138). The gods seem to have travelled with the slaves from Dahomey and the Congo, she writes, and gotten jumbled up (138139). Wendy Dutton writes of Hurston's "Herculean" task of cleaning up and separating into different lineages the myriad voodoo gods, "She claimed (rightfully) that it would take several volumes to explain the gods and practices of one region alone" (132). However, she seems to have gotten one thing clear, which is that some of the gods give material wealth, while one of the goddesses, the goddess Erzulie, gives divine love. There is a clear differentiation between these two teleological values as they are incarnated in Joe Starks and in Teacake, even if they are not more powerfully separated than this. Hurston, like Breton, stood against materialism, and its apostles for the creed of "Social Realism." As Henry Louis Gates, Jr. writes, in the Afterword to the novel, "[Their Eyes Were Watching God] is more closely related to Henry James' Portrait of a Lady and Jean Toomer's Cane than to Langston Hughes's and Richard Wright's proletarian literature, so popular in the depression" (187). Breton's similar turning away from "proletarian literature" in this same period can be seen in his essays such as "Du `realisme socialiste' comme moyen d'extermination morale" [Of `social realism' as a means of moral extermination]. Breton and Hurston were united in turning their backs on materialism in their search for a marvelous mythology of divine love, which Hurston found in Haiti, and which Breton found in the troubador cults, in the Tarot deck, and in pagan myth.
Wendy Dutton writes, "As an initiate and practitioner, she [Hurston] had vowed to uphold voodoo's strict secrecy laws. This was nothing to take lightly in a religion as powerful as voodoo" (133). Nevertheless, Hurston was clearly immersed in voodoo. Voodoo scholar Wade Davis writes of Hurston that, "Once to satisfy a hoodoo priest she had to steal a black cat, then kill it by dropping it into boiling water; after the flesh fell away, she was instructed to pass each bone through her teeth until one tasted bitter. During an initiation ceremony in New Orleans, she had to lie naked on a couch with a snakeskin touching her navel; at the tolling of the seventieth hour, five men lifted her from the floor and began a long ritual that culminated with the painting of a symbolic streak of lightning across her back. Then the hoodoo priest passed around a vessel of wine mixed with the blood of all present. Only by sharing in this ritual drink did Zora Neale become accepted by the cult" (208). Hurston penetrated secret societies in Haiti and witnessed the live burial of dogs and human sacrifices. She would have had to hide some of the things she witnessed, or keep them shrouded in mystery, Dutton argued, or else she would have had to pay penalties exacted by other initiates for having broken the secrecy vow. Therefore, it is possible that both her folklore and her novels present only an approximation of what she knew, with some of the most important elements occluded. Her research itself, however, knew no boundaries. The surrealist research into hypnosis, medieval witchcraft, and alchemy, would again appear to be "contemporaneous" in the sense that Kenneth Burke has defined. Like Hurston, the surrealists were doing dangerous research into the occult, stopping at no taboo in order to see the magical powers which mankind may possess.
Hurston describes human sacrifice as an important aspect of voodoo ritual. Hurston writes, "It is the old European belief in selling one's self to the devil but with Haitian variations. In Europe the man gives himself at the end of a certain period. Over in Haiti he gives others and only gives himself when no more acceptable victims can be found. But he cannot give strangers. It must be a real sacrifice. Each year the sacrifice must be renewed and there is no avoiding the payments. There are tales of men giving every member of the family, even his wife after nieces, nephews, sons and daughters were gone. Then at last he must go himself. There are lurid tales of the last days of men who have gained wealth and power through `Give man'" (193).
In the novel, Janie's first husband, Logan Killicks, meant very little to her. This husband had material goods to offer and a piano, but little else. She complains to her grandmother, "His belly is too big too, now, and his toenails look lak mule foots. And `tain't nothin' in de way of him washin' his feet every evenin' before he comes tuh bed. . . . He don't even never mention nothing pretty" (23). This earth bound gentleman has nothing of the divine in him. He has sixty acres to offer, and nothing else, so Janie leaves him. She is on a quest for something holy in life. She is looking for someone with a divine aspect.
The second husband, Joe Starks, is a powerful man, who uses his power to cow others, and he demands obedience in return. Joe Starks is described: "There was something about Joe Starks that cowed the town. It was not because of physical fear. He was no fist fighter. His bulk was not even imposing as men go. Neither was it because he was more literate than the rest. Something else made men give way before him. He had a bowdown command in his face, and every step he took made the thing more tangible" (44).
Joe Starks became the most prominent power in Eatonville. He lorded over the town, and presided over all events. Just before his death, he has a conversation with Janie.
"`. . . Have yo' way all yo' life, trample and mash down and then die rather than tuh let yo'self heah `about it . . . Mah own mind had tuh be squeezed and crowded out tuh make room for yours in me.'
`Shut up! Ah wish thunder and lightnin' would kill yuh!' (82).
Minutes later, Joe himself is dying. "A sound of strife in Jody's throat, but his eyes stared unwillingly into a corner of the room so Janie knew the futile fight was not with her. The icy sword of the squaretoed one had cut off his breath and left his hands in a pose of agonizing protest" (8283).
Janie comments: "`Dis sittin' in de rulin' chair is been hard on Jody . . ." (83). She is quite sympathetic towards him after his death, realizing his struggle. There is no sense in this chapter, or anywhere else, that she is offering Joe Starks up to any specific god in return for power, or glory, but rather that she has been disgusted with this way of life, this stupid struggle for power which cost so much and gave so little, and seems to think that Jodie, however, did make a kind of devil's bargain with power, a bargain with which she finally couldn't reconcile herself, and which cost him her love. "She was full of pity for the first time in years. Jody had been hard on her and others, but life had mishandled him, too. Poor Joe! Maybe if she had known some other way to try, she might have made his face different. But what that other way could be, she had no idea" (83). In this section, there is no sense of "give man." She is simply sorry that her man is gone from her, and sorry that they hadn't gotten along better, and sorry that Jody hadn't participated in some other system of values. Could Jody have represented some specific voodoo deity, or worshipped some specific deity?
Hurston is never very specific about the various deities in Haitian voodoo in her book, but Wade Davis is much more so. He writes, "Why is it, for example, that the one possessed by the spirit in vodoun experiences total amnesia, yet still manifests the predictable and often complex behavior of the particular loa?" (179). Jody is seemingly possessed by some god of power, but which? After his death, Joe Starks is described: "The Little Emperor of the crossroads was leaving Orange County as he had come--with the outstretched hand of power" (84).
Power is gotten in the evil sects of voodoo through a devil's pact. Hurston describes such devil's bargains in Tell My Horse: "The Voice: Now, you belong to me and I can do with you as I wish. If I want you in the cemetery I can put you there.
The Man: Yes, I know you have all power with me. I put myself in your care because I want prosperity.
The Voice: That I will give you . . . Each year on this date you will come to me with another man that you wish to give me" (197).
Was Joe Starks a voodoo initiate? There is no indication of any such thing, even though there are little touches throughout the novel that a nonChristian religion plays some part in the author's thinking. Joe Starks, for instance, is described as "the Little Emperor of the crossroads" [my emphasis] (84). In Wade Davis' book on Haitian voodoo, the god Legba is described as ". . . the spirit of communication and the crossroad . . ." [my emphasis] (270). In Hurston's book, too, Legba is described as ". . . Lord of the crossroads" [my emphasis] (151). However, Hurston does not describe the sacrifices Legba requires, nor what he specifically offers in return. Legba is presented as an old man: "The peasants say he is an old man that moves about with a sac paille (large pouch woven of straw) . . ." and this description does match Joe Starks, at least insofar as he is an old man at the end of the novel, or presented as looking like an old man. Janie blasts out at him in their last, terrible fight, "When you pull down yo' britches, you look lak de change uh life" (75).
There is yet another more terrible god than Legba, a certain Baron Samedi, who is mentioned in Wade Davis' book as a god of awesome powers, and is associated with death and cemeteries, but Hurston only mentions this god in passing (139) and her few words don't convey much, except that he was one of the evil gods. Is Joe Starks based on a combination of Legba and some other god such as Baron Samedi? Did he represent some local god she came across in her anthropological research? If not, why does she write, seemingly referring to voodoo mythology, that he was "the Little Emperor of the Crossroads?"
The only god who gets a longer writeup in Hurston's ethnographic account is the goddess Erzulie. This goddess seems to be the pattern for the character Teacake. Erzulie stands in dazzling contrast to the materialist gods, in that she appears to be a goddess of divine love, and she doesn't require human sacrifice.
In Tell My Horse, Hurston describes the worship of Erzulie. "Thousands of beds, pure in their snowy whiteness and perfumed are spread for her. Desserts, sweet drinks, perfumes and flowers are offered to her and hundreds of thousands of men of all ages and classes enter those pagan bowers to devote themselves to this spirit" (144). ". . . Erzulie, the lady upon the rock whose toes are pretty and flowery" (151). Hurston writes that she is the "pagan goddess of love" (143144) but so far ". . . no one in Haiti has formulated her. She whose love is so strong and binding it cannot tolerate a rival" (144). For those men who are chosen by her, they must exclusively devote Thursday and Saturday to her honor. "She comes to them every Thursday and Saturday night and claims them" (145). This goddess has two aspects. Hurston writes: "Besides this merely amorous goddess, there is another Erzulie, gerouge (Erzulie, the redeyed) but she does not belong to the Rada. She belongs to the dreaded Petro phalanx. She is described as an older woman and terrible to look upon. Her name has been mentioned in connection with the demon worship of the Bocors and the Sect Rouge" (147). The counterpart of Erzulie's divine love is terrible jealousy: "For Erzulie Frieda is a most jealous female spirit" (144).
Erzulie represents the various aspects of female beauty. In a scholarly work, the Haitian writer Louis Maximilien says of Voodoo, "Evidemment, comme toute réligion, elle présente un aspect chlonien (esprits infernals), mais elle présente aussi son côté olympien (bons ésprits). Fréda Dahomey, épouse d'Ogoun, dieu terrien et d'Agouet, Maître des Océans, n'estelle pas le principe de la fecondité universelle qui engendre la flore et la faune terrestres et marines? L'élégance et la mollesse de cette déesse sont dans la ligne ionienne" (Maximilien 200). [Clearly, as in any religion, there is a hellish aspect (infernal gods), but there is also the Olympian aspect (benevolent gods). Frieda Dahomey, wife of Ogoun, terrestrial god, and Agouet, Master of Oceans, is she not the spirit of university fecundity which makes plant and animal life flower on land and at sea? The elegance and indolence of this goddess are in the Ionian line.]
This goddess has two aspects, divine love and terrible jealousy. The latter is worshipped by some more demonic sects, the former is worshipped by the larger community. Some of Erzulie's more positive traits seem to parallel Hurston's descriptions of Janie herself. Janie is described as halfwhite, just like Erzulie Frieda. "Erzulie is said to be a beautiful young woman of lush appearance. She is a mulatto and so when she is impersonated by the blacks, they powder their faces with talcum" (145). Like Erzulie, Janie has a component of jealousy. But here the resemblance ends. "She [Erzulie] is a rich young woman and wears a gold ring on her finger with a stone in it. She also wears a gold chain about her neck, attires herself in beautiful, expensive raiment and she sheds intoxicating odors from her person" (Tell My Horse 145). If such details could be found in Hurston's fiction, then a more positive identification could be made, but after trying to do this, it can be said that she does not make an easy onetoone correspondence between the gods she describes and the characters she creates, even if there are a number of extremely tantalizing links.
When Janie first encounters Tea Cake, she says, "Dis ain't no business proposition, and no race after property and titles. Dis is uh love game" (108). But with this love game comes jealousy: "In the cool of the afternoon the fiend from hell specially sent to lovers arrived at Janie's ear. Doubt. All the fears that circumstance could provide and the heart feel, attacked her on every side. This was a new sensation for her, but no less excruciating. If only Tea Cake would make her certain! He did not return that night nor the next and so she plunged into the abyss and descended to the ninth darkness where light has never been" (103). She describes Tea Cake: "He looked like the love thoughts of women. He could be a bee to a blossom--a pear tree in the spring. He seemed to be crushing scent out of the world with his footsteps. Crushing aromatic herbs with every step he took. Spices hung about him. He was a glance from God" (101102).
A divine lover, Tea Cake brought music, and cards, and midnight fishing trips. But he also brought jealousy. Hurston writes: "Janie learned what it felt like to be jealous. A little chunky girl took to picking a play out of Tea Cake in the fields and in the quarters. . . . And another thing, Tea Cake didn't seem to be able to fend her off as promptly as Janie thought he ought to. She began to be snappish a little. A little seed of fear was growing into a tree" (130).
This tree of jealousy is the other aspect of the divine pear tree which Janie glimpses in the opening chapters. "Janie made a move to seize Nunkie but the girl fled. . . . She [Janie] walked slowly and thoughtfully to the quarters. It wasn't long before Tea Cake found her there and tried to talk. She cut him short with a blow and they fought from one room to the other, Janie trying to beat him. . . ." (131).
The jealousy is not onesided. After Tea Cake teaches Janie to shoot, "She could knock the head off of a chickenhawk sitting up a pine tree. Tea Cake was a little jealous . . ." (165). And then there is the business of Mrs. Turner's brother, another mulatto. Mrs. Turner suggests to Janie "Us oughtta class off" (135). Tea Cake finds out and gets increasingly jealous. "Still and all, jealousies arose now and then on both sides. When Mrs. Turner's brother came and she brought him over to be introduced, Tea Cake had a brainstorm. Before the week was over he had whipped Janie . . . Being able to whip her reassured him in possession" (140).
Tea Cake's final scene with Janie, just before she shoots him, is precipitated by his avowal of jealousy:
"`Janie, whut is dat Turner woman's brother doin' back on de muck?'
`Ah don't know, Tea Cake. Didn't even know he wuz back.'
`Accordin' tuh mah notion, you did. What you slip off from me just now for?'
`Tea Cake, Ah don't lak you astin' me no sich question. Dat shows how sick you is sho nuff. You'se jealous `thought me givin' you cause'" (171).
Is Tea Cake's rabid state at the end of the novel actually possession by the evil aspect of Erzulie? "Janie saw a changing look come in his face. Tea Cake was gone. Something else was looking out of his face" (172). Hurston describes similar possessions in Tell My Horse: "There was a whisper that an evil spirit had materialized and from appearances, this might well have been true, for the face of the man had lost itself in a horrible mask" (164).
Tea Cake's sumptuous burial at the end of the novel brings home once more his divine aspect. His very name implies that he is like a communion wafer. Having passed through this allpossessive state, Janie buries Tea Cake in a manner fit for a god. "Tea Cake was the son of Evening Sun, and nothing was too good. The Undertaker did a handsome job and Tea Cake slept royally on the white silken couch among the roses she had brought" (180). In Sigmund Freud's Totem and Taboo, the one who is sacrificed becomes coextensive with the god. "The ceremony of human sacrifice in various parts of the inhabited world makes it certain that these human beings ended their lives as representatives of the deity" (Freud 195). "Sacrifice, as it is now constituted, is entirely beyond their responsibility. God himself had demanded it and ordained it . . ." (Freud 194). Has Hurston had Janie sacrifice Tea Cake to the goddess of love so that we, as readers, could feel the terrible price of gaining such a precious thing only in order to lose it?
To make this case would be very difficult. Her apparent motivation is selfdefense, and it is something that she doesn't do until he nearly kills her with his own gun. Her shooting of him comes as a final resort. She certainly doesn't willingly sacrifice him. Nevertheless, is it possible to ask if the novel's power is dependent on his death, and that the narrative itself required it, in order to achieve its power? Hurston herself must have been aware of anthropological accounts of sacrifice myths, as she mentions George Frazier's Golden Bough in Tell My Horse (153) and, being a student of Franz Boas, she would certainly have been aware of other anthropological work that treats of sacrifice. In a quite similar fashion, André Breton sacrifices Nadja at the end of his novel, and talks about the blood sacrifice of an airplane which crashes, in his final pages. Must divine love always come at such a terrible price, or is this a literary convention which consists of exacerbating a common emotion to its furthest pitch, and which could be considered "contemporaneous" (in the terms of Kenneth Burke), with such classic texts as Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliette and such more recent manifestations as Eric Segal's Love Story? Must the story of divine love end with the death of one or both of the partners, to prevent the story of a "timeless love" from settling into the routine of married life? Afterall, everybody who has a love affair experiences jealousy, and they don't necessarily have to be voodoo practitioners to feel these emotions, and the partner doesn't necessarily need to die as a result of the jealousy. A love affair in which one of the partners dies at the peak of the affair, must be a relatively freak occurence. More common, would be a separation because one of the partners couldn't handle the intensity, or because one of the partners suddenly sees the common humanity in the other partner, and comes down out of the clouds. This is what happened to André Breton, in his novel, after his girlfriend is committed within an insane institution. It also, apparently, is what happened to Zora Neale Hurston's love. Hurston has written that she was struggling with the divine and demonic aspects of love at the time she was writing her novel. In her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road, she writes about her love affair with a certain A.W.P., who was about the same age as Tea Cake, while she had been about the same age as Janie (she was some fifteen years older):
"Just let him smile too broad at any woman, and no sooner did we get inside my door than the war was on! One night (I didn't decide this) something primitive inside me tore past the barriers and before I had realized it I had slapped his face" (186).
"In the midst of this, I received my Guggenheim Fellowship. This was my chance to release him, and fight myself free from obsession . . . But I freely admit that everywhere I set my feet down, there were tracks of blood. Blood from the very middle of my heart . . . So I pitched in to work hard on my research to smother my feelings. But the thing would not down. The plot was far from the circumstances, but I tried to embalm all the tenderness of my passion for him in Their Eyes Were Watching God" (188189).
The thematic center of the love affair with Teacake is the passionate doublesided nature of divine love. Her anthropological researches seem to have given her a way to understand and transmit this powerful feeling within the framework of the voodoo religion. The one god she spends the most time discussing in her anthropological work is the doublesided goddess Erzulie, and this goddess corresponds to a large extent with the character Tea Cake, who gets the longest treatment in the novel.
Many critics persist in seeing Hurston's novel as that of a climb to social power, but it is in fact the very opposite. The very title of the book indicates the direction of the novelist's gaze: towards God. This is not a worldly book, but rather a book about the sublime. It is a renunciation of social power, at least in the terms in which Joe Starks sought it, and instead a strong appeal to throwing one's material cares away (as Janie threw away her care for the store) in exchange for divine love. Teacake had nothing when he met her, no worldly goods, no standing in the community, and when he died, he left her nothing. Nevertheless, Annye L. Refoe writes, "The successful woman of the 90s needs the same tools for survival that Janie needed . . . The journey to self results in a fulfilled, self confident person who can recognize the difference between those situations that are advantageous and those that are not" (29). And, in the foreword to the novel, Mary Helen Washington writes that ". . . for most black women readers discovering Their Eyes for the first time, what was most compelling was the figure of Janie Crawford--powerful, articulate, selfreliant, and radically different from any woman character they had ever encountered in literature" (Washington ix).
Janie's only empowerment is through love. That is the great gift she acquires in the novel, that is the one value that is placed above all the others--love, and its terrible but inescapable counterpart, jealousy, after she seems to have rejected the search for social power in the person of Joe Starks, or the value of mere security, which was figured in her first husband. Love is the theme in a number of Hurston's most powerful stories, such as "The Gilded SixBits," "Spunk," and "Cock Robin Beale Street." Love is the great power which she knew, combined with its tragic counterpart, jealousy, and this is the one experience she wanted to communicate. In the novel's last paragraph, she writes, "Then Tea Cake came prancing around her where she was and the song of the sigh flew out of the window and lit in the top of the pine trees. Tea Cake, with the sun for a shawl. Of course he wasn't dead. He could never be dead until she herself had finished feeling and thinking. The kiss of his memory made pictures of love and light against the wall. Here was peace. She pulled in her horizon like a great fishnet. Pulled it from around the waist of the world and draped it over her shoulder. So much of life in its meshes! She called in her soul to come and see" (183184) Her work was recreated through her own complex experience with "A.W.P.," just as André Breton's work was based on a real affair with a woman he had met in the streets of Paris. Together, the two novels represent classics of the sustaining aspects of love for which some are willing to let go of their materialistic interests, in order to become apprentices in the search for the "marvelous."
Breton, André. "Magloire St. Aude." in La clé des champs (Paris: 10/18, 1967): 171172.
----. Nadja (1927; Paris: Gallimard, 1964).
----. "Preface." Le Miroir du Merveilleux by Pierre Mabille (Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1962): 716.
----. "Du `realisme socialiste' comme moyen d'extermination morale" in La clé des champs (Paris: 10/18, 1967): 433438.
Burke, Kenneth. The Philosophy of Literary Form (1941; Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973).
Davis, Wade. The Serpent and the Rainbow: A Harvard Scientist's Astonishing Journey into the Secret Society of Haitian Voodoo, Zombis and Magic (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985)
Dutton, Wendy. "The Problem of Invisibility: Voodoo and Zora Neale Hurston." Frontiers (Summer 1992): 131 (22).
Freud, Sigmund. Totem and Taboo trans. A.A. Brill (1918; New York: Vintage, 1946).
Gates, Henry Louis. "Zora Neale Hurston: `A Negro Way of Saying." Afterword to Their Eyes Were Watching God (New York: Harper Perennial, 1990).
Hurston, Zora Neale. The Complete Stories (New York: Harper Perennial, 1996).
----. Dust Tracks on a Road (New York: Harper Perennial, 1991).
----. Tell My Horse (Berkeley: Turtle Island, 1983).
----. Their Eyes Were Watching God (New York: Harper Perennial, 1990).
Maximilien, Louis. Le Voudou Haitien (PortauPrince: Imprimerie de L'Etat, 1945).
Refoe, Annye L. "Their Eyes Were Watching God: The Journey to Self." All About Zora: Proceedings of the Academic Conference of the First Annual Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts ed. Alice Morgan
Grant (Winter Park, Florida: FourG Publishers, 1991).
Washington, Mary Helen. Foreword to Their Eyes Were Watching God (New York: Harper & Row Perennial, 1990).