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Their Eyes Were Watching God

Zora Neale Hurston

Analysis of Major Characters

Character List

Themes, Motifs & Symbols

Janie

Although Their Eyes Were Watching God revolves around Janie’s relationships with other people, it is first and foremost a story of Janie’s search for spiritual enlightenment and a strong sense of her own identity. When we first and last see Janie, she is alone. The novel is not the story of her quest for a partner but rather that of her quest for a secure sense of independence. Janie’s development along the way can be charted by studying her use of language and her relationship to her own voice.

At the end of her journey, Janie returns to Eatonville a strong and proud woman, but at the beginning of her story, she is unsure of who she is or how she wants to live. When she tells her story to Pheoby, she begins with her revelation under the blossoming pear tree—the revelation that initiates her quest. Under the pear tree, she witnesses a perfect union of harmony within nature. She knows that she wants to achieve this type of love, a reciprocity that produces oneness with the world, but is unsure how to proceed. At this point, she is unable to articulate even to herself exactly what she wants.

When Jody Starks enters her life, he seems to offer the ideal alternative to the dull and pragmatic Logan Killicks. With his ambitious talk, Jody convinces Janie that he will use his thirst for conquest to help her realize her dreams, whatever they may be. Janie learns that Jody’s exertion of power only stifles her. But just before Jody’s death, Janie’s repressed power breaks through in a torrent of verbal retaliation. Her somewhat cruel tirade at the dying Jody measures the depth of Jody’s suppression of her inner life. Having begun to find her voice, Janie blows through social niceties to express herself.

Janie flourishes in her relationship with Tea Cake, as he “teaches her the maiden language all over.” Her control of speech reaches a new level as she learns to be silent when she chooses. This idea of silence as strength rather than passivity comes to the forefront during Janie’s trial, when the narrator glosses over her testimony. Dialogue has been pivotally important up to this point, and one might expect Hurston to use the courtroom scene to showcase Janie’s hard-won, mature voice. The absence of dialogue here, Mary Ellen Washington argues in the foreword present in most editions of the novel, reflects Hurston’s discomfort with rhetoric for its own sake; Hurston doesn’t want Janie’s voice to be confused with that of the lawyer or politician. Janie’s development of her voice is inseparable from her inner growth, and the drama of the courtroom may be too contrived to draw out the nuances of her inner life. Janie summarizes the novel’s attitude toward language when she tells Pheoby that talking “don’t amount tuh uh hill uh beans” if it isn’t connected to actual experience.

Tea Cake

Tea Cake functions as the catalyst that helps drive Janie toward her goals. Like all of the other men in Janie’s life, he plays only a supporting role. Before his arrival, Janie has already begun to find her own voice, as is demonstrated when she finally stands up to Jody. As we see at the end of the novel, after Tea Cake’s death, Janie remains strong and hopeful; therefore, it’s fair to say that Janie is not dependent on Tea Cake. Nevertheless, he does play a crucial role in her development.

When she meets Tea Cake, Janie has already begun to develop a strong, proud sense of self, but Tea Cake accelerates this spiritual growth. Ever since her moment under the pear tree, Janie has known that she will find what she is searching for only through love. In Tea Cake she finds a creative and vivacious personality who enjoys probing the world around him and respects Janie’s need to develop. Whereas Logan treats her like a farm animal and Jody silences her, Tea Cake converses and plays with her. Instead of stifling her personality, he encourages it, introducing her to new experiences and skills.

While Tea Cake is vital to Janie’s development, he is not an indispensable part of her life, a crucial truth that is revealed when Janie shoots him. He plays a role in her life, helping her to better understand herself. By teaching her how to shoot a gun, ironically, he provides her with the tools that ultimately kill him. Janie’s decision to save herself rather than yield her life up to the crazy Tea Cake points to her increasing sense of self and demonstrates that Tea Cake’s ultimate function in the novel is not to make Janie dependent on him for happiness but to help her find happiness and security within herself.

Jody Starks

Jody’s character is opposite that of Tea Cake. He is cruel, conceited, and uninterested in Janie as a person. But his cruelty is not a result of any specific animosity toward Janie; rather, it is a reflection of the values that he holds and the way that he understands his relationship to the world. Jody depends on the exertion of power for his sense of himself; he is only happy and secure when he feels that he holds power over those around him. In Janie’s words, he needs to “have [his] way all [his] life, trample and mash down and then die ruther than tuh let [him]self heah ’bout it.” He needs to feel like a “big voice,” a force of “irresistible maleness” before whom the whole world bows.

In order to maintain this illusion of irresistible power, Jody tries to dominate everyone and everything around him. His entire existence is based on purchasing, building, bullying, and political planning. He marries Janie not because he loves her as a person but because he views her as an object that will serve a useful purpose in his schemes. She is young, beautiful, and stately, and thus fits his ideal of what a mayor’s wife should be. Jody is obsessed with notions of power, and Janie remains unfulfilled by their relationship because these notions require her to be a mute, static object and prevent her from growing. He forces her to tie her hair up because its phallic quality threatens his male dominance and because its feminine beauty makes him worry that he will lose her. Janie ultimately rebels against Jody’s suppression of her, and by toppling his secure sense of his own power, she destroys his will to live.

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Dont read this book

by Mike_Halk, September 25, 2012

reading this book will send you into a deep depression because after you finish you will realize you spent hours translating this book into real english in your head and then you gained absolutely nothing from it.

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461 out of 662 people found this helpful

Movie

by coco_woah, October 06, 2012

Theirs also a really good movie adaption of this book, we watched it in school. It's with Halle Berry as Jane Crawford.

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24 out of 45 people found this helpful

tewwg

by chinchilla99999, January 29, 2013

abcdefg gummy bears are chasing me one is red one is blue one is trying to steal my shoe now im running 4 my life cuz the red one has a knife im running at full speed ahead but then i stop cuz i havent been fed i feel my energy bar depleting but then a turkey begins retreating he whines about his finga and then i prone walk since i havent unlocked ninja i barrel roll into the red teddy take his knife and get ready i stab his fluffeh gooey back and then prepare for the secret attack i drop it to the groung and get a predator missile to move a... Read more

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251 out of 371 people found this helpful

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