“Their Eyes Were Watching God” is a novel written by Zora Neale Hurston, alongside becoming the indisputable symbol of the Harlem Renaissance. Not only this novel has become the most known work of the decade, feminism in Their Eyes Were Watching God is a subject worthy of detailed analysis. This story initiated an influential spike in both African-American literature and women’s literary practice of the twentieth century, thus, becoming a superb example of how complex issues of the past can be intertwined in a story.
Indisputably, this feminist story is regarded to be one of the earliest, yet influential novels, that attracted widespread attention to this subject. For that sole reason, let’s take a closer look at how gender roles and society’s expectations are portrayed throughout the story, by paying the most attention to interactions and stories of the main characters, as follows.
The main character of this novel is Janie Crawford, an African-American woman, who recounts her personal background. To get to know more information regarding the analysis of Janie as a character, consider using a useful source to get to know this narrative in a bit of detail. Her narrative starts with a recall of sexual awakening, compared in the story with a blossoming pear tree kissed by bees. This period of sexual awakening also coincides with her first kiss with Johnny Taylor, who was no more of a local boy. Janie’s grandmother, named Nanny, witnesses this occasion, starting a recall of Janie’s life from the chronological perspective.
The main story consists of three marriages, which brilliantly represent the theme of gender roles. After Nanny witnesses that kiss with a local boy, the story moves forward to the portrayal of Janie-Nanny’s relationship. Although Nanny initially hoped for stability for Leafy, her other daughter, she switched to Janie. Starting from that exact moment, one might need a detailed review of the mentioned three marriages to shed light on the complexity of those relationships.
Before Nanny passed away in the story, she managed to persuade Janie to marry Logan Killicks. He was no more than an older farmer actively seeking marriage opportunities. Throughout their co-existence, she immediately realizes that Logan perceives her as a domestic helper. Janie, especially at the start of the story, emphasizes the importance of mutual feelings and respect in the coexistence of two individuals. She decided to speak with her grandmother about her sincere passion for mutual feelings. This conversation abruptly ended with Nanny’s death, who only remarked that Janie was acting foolishly and that she was spoiled.
Without a doubt, sense of being lonely, dissatisfied, and hopeless, she makes a courageous decision to run from Killiks with Jody Starks. Joe Starks took her to the black community of Eatonville, where he arranged a general store. Thanks to his business efforts, he was soon elected as the mayor of that town. After arranging a marriage, about which Janie was so ambitious, especially in terms of mutual feelings and sincere happiness, the situation seemed to be a bit grim. It soon became obvious that such power made Joe perceive Janie as a trophy wife, eventually forbidding her to take part in the social life of that town. Their marriage, full of cases when Joe beats Janie, criticizes, and controls her, lasted for a total of twenty years, eventually ending with Joe’s death.
After the death of Starks, Janie gets financial independence, thanks to the real estate of her former husband. Although she gets lots of attention from various men, she turns all them down till she meets Vergible Woods. This man, also known as Tea Cake, was a young drifter and gambler who played the guitar and treated her with kindness and respect. Neale Hurston’s Watching God is a story that also ends differently, unlike the expectations of most readers. While at first, she is hesitant regarding marriage because of her age and wealth, she falls in love with Tea Cake, deciding to make life with him in Jacksonville. They soon move to Belle Glade, where they are busy working with harvesting beans. The image of life with Tea finally fulfills the dream of pear tree blossom, portrayed at the start of the story of Watching God. When the area was hit by a horrific hurricane, a relationship with Tea ends when Cake was bitten by a rabid dog in his efforts to save her from drowning. His mood and behavior change considerably, as he becomes more jealous, aggressive, and unpredictable. When he, in a panic, tries to shoot his wife, she finds no other way except to kill Tea in self-defence when she fights back.
Janie is being charged with murder, having to oppose against black women and other individuals, who were Cake’s friends. The all-white jury, in the end, acquits Janie, while she gives her latest husband a lavish funeral. Even though the mentioned friends asked her to stay in Belle Glade, she moved to Eatonville. At that exact moment, she tells her story to Pheoby, alongside experience gossiping and an uncertain attitude from residents.
So, what’s the moral of this story, and what can we say about gender roles? There are various ways to analyze and review the discourses intertwined in the plot, whereas the story raises awareness regarding gender roles as well as the subjects of masculinity and femininity. In social sciences, especially if you use this link, it is noticeable that scholars agree that the story of Janie is no more than a drastic effort to become happy and liberated from the patriarchal world. Each marriage story displays an attempt to liberate from racial abuse, domestic violence, or sexual norms.
For that sole reason, an entire story of Janie is a top-notch example of how a progressive black woman did her best to succeed. Even though she found a home not even once, all the events happening during those three marriages prove that Janie was seeking the feelings uncommon for most marriages of that time. Therefore, the entire story is the representation of a personal struggle, which is best seen from the perspective of three marriages.
When it comes to conclusions regarding gender roles and self-autonomy in this iconic novel, readers can immediately realize that this story is a groundbreaking narrative. Keeping in mind that it was published in 1937, it is obvious that the author certainly represented the demanded state of affairs concerning women. Although it was different from the real situation, one can associate this novel with a long-demanded strive of females for self-autonomy and equality. These claims, undoubtedly progressive ones, are the cornerstones of an entire novel, forming its central theme related to feminism.