Their Eyes Were Watching God is primarily an example of bildungsroman in that it follows Janie’s transition from childhood to adulthood, is told mostly in flashback as Janie recounts her life to Pheoby, and depicts Janie’s self-discovery as she embarks on a search for meaningful existence. Bildungsromans are a subgenre of coming-of-age stories, and their focus is on the growth—both moral and psychological—of a young protagonist who matures as the story progresses. Janie’s yearning for self-fulfillment is established at the very beginning, when she describes watching a bee interact with a pear tree flower, and felt she was “summoned to behold a revelation.”

Read more about the bildungsroman genre in J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye.

Throughout the rest of the novel, Janie chases after this erotic and harmonious vision she received from nature, struggling to reconcile her loveless relationships with her belief that a deeper sort of union exists for her, one that mirrors what she observed under the pear tree. While Janie does eventually find love in her relationship with Tea Cake, Their Eyes Were Watching God upholds Janie’s self-actualization and independence as the true markers of growth, as is typical of the bildungsroman genre. By novel’s end, Janie pulls “in her horizon like a great fish-net,” solidifying her growth from a repressed wife to a free woman in control of her own future.