Their Eyes Were Watching God

by: Zora Neale Hurston

Janie Mae Crawford

“What she doin’ coming back here in dem overhalls? Can’t she find no dress to put on?—Where’s dat blue satin dress she left here in?—Where all dat money her husband took and died and left her?—What dat ole forty year ole ‘oman doin’ wid her hair swingin’ down her back lak some young gal? Where she left dat young lad of a boy she went off here wid?”

Here, Janie’s former neighbors ask the many questions created by her sudden reappearance in town. Janie leaves them asking each other these questions rather than submitting to their interrogation. Her overalls, her loose hair, and her indifference all show that Janie no longer cares about the opinions of these people.

Oh to be a pear tree—any tree in bloom! With kissing bees singing of the beginning of the world! She was sixteen. She had glossy leaves and bursting buds and she wanted to struggle with life but it seemed to elude her. Where were the singing bees for her?

The narrator explains Janie’s sexual awakening, which Janie understands only vaguely, through its connection to the natural world. Janie knows she is missing out on something and hopes this missing element will come along soon. She wants this aspect of life, signified by the way the bees interact with the tree’s blossoms, to be part of her own experience.

Yes, she would love Logan after they were married. She could see no way for it to come about, but Nanny and the old folks had said it, so it must be so. Husbands and wives always loved each other, and that was what marriage meant. It was just so. Janie felt glad of the thought, for then it wouldn’t seem so destructive and mouldy.

Janie’s reflection occurs after she reluctantly agrees to marry Logan Killicks. She isn’t attracted to him, but she naively believes what Nanny says is true, that she will fall in love with him after the marriage. Unlike some who marry purely for security, Janie marries purely for love. Unfortunately, her lack of experience with relationships means that she is easily misled.

Ah ain’t studyin’ ‘bout none of ‘em. At de same time Ah ain’t takin’ dat ole land tuh heart neither. Ah could throw ten acres of it over de fence every day and never look back to see where it fell. Ah feel the same way ‘bout Mr. Killicks too. Some folks never was meant to be loved and he’s one of ‘em.”

Here, Janie assures Nanny that she is not interested in men outside of her marriage to Logan Killicks. She confesses that she is also not excited about the property and stability her marriage to Logan has brought—things Nanny considers vitally important. Neither the land nor her husband interest Janie, and she has no motivation to pretend otherwise.

She turned wrongside out just standing there and feeling. When the throbbing calmed a little she gave Logan’s speech a hard thought and placed it beside other things she had seen and heard…. She wasn’t even angry. Logan was accusing her of her mamma, her grandmama and her feelings, and she couldn’t do a thing about any of it.

Janie processes what just transpired between her and her husband Logan. Angry about Janie’s coldness toward him, Logan has said she should be grateful to be married to him since her background is less respectable than his own. Janie considers his words without reacting to them angrily or even taking them personally. This ability to step back and reflect on her circumstances is something Janie will continue to use in the future.

“Over, Janie? I god, Ah ain’t even started good. Ah told you in the very first beginnin’ dat Ah aimed tuh be uh big voice. You oughta be glad, ‘cause that makes uh big woman outa you.” A feeling of coldness and fear took hold of her. She felt far away from things and lonely.

Jody reveals to Janie that his expectations for their marriage are very different from hers. Janie has just told Jody that his constant work in establishing their new town and his business bothers her because it keeps the two of them apart, both physically and emotionally. She hopes that now that business is booming, their togetherness and closeness will resume. Janie emotionally grapples with this sudden awareness of her reality.

She stood there until something fell off the shelf inside her. . . . It was her image of Jody tumbled down and shattered. But looking at it she saw that it never was the flesh and blood figure of her dreams. Just something she had grabbed up to drape her dreams over…. She found she had a host of thoughts she had never expressed to him, and numerous emotions she had never let Jody know about.

Janie comes to realize what her marriage to Jody is never going to be. Marriage is not the intimate bond that she had hoped for and expected, and she sees that her expectations came from her own mind and not anything he promised her. Janie now understands that Jody doesn’t feel any need to know her as a person.

He drifted off to sleep and Janie looked down on him and felt a self-crushing love. So her soul crawled out from its hiding place.

The narrator reveals the moment Janie begins to allow herself to trust Tea Cake. It is shortly after Tea Cake returns home after winning back Janie’s money at a dice game. Tea Cake had to fight a man to take home his fair winnings, and he proved his promise to support Janie financially. This event allows Janie to overcome her doubts about Tea Cake’s love and be happy for the first time in many years.

What if Eatonville could see her now in her blue denim overalls and heavy shoes? The crowd of people around her and a dice game on her floor! She was sorry for her friends back there and scornful of the others. The men held big arguments here like they used to do on the store porch. Only here, she could listen and laugh and even talk some herself if she wanted to.

Here, the narrator provides insight into how Janie is feeling about her current circumstances and how she feels about her past. As Mrs. Mayor Starks back in Eatonville, people treated Janie with respect, but her husband Jody didn’t respect her, and he didn’t let her interact with other people and have fun. In the ‘Glades, working and having fun alongside Tea Cake and their friends, Janie is freer and happier than she’s ever been before.