What does the title mean?

Hurston’s title comes from Chapter 18 in which Janie and Tea Cake take shelter from the raging hurricane. Hurston writes that they waited to see how nature would determine their fate: “They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God.” With this line, the characters recognize the lack of control they have over their own lives, and realize they can only be spared from the cruelty of nature if God sees fit to save them.

Why does Janie’s grandmother encourage her to get married so young?

Nanny realizes Janie’s blooming interest in sex when she spots her kissing a boy across the gate. Nanny decides that Janie’s sexual awakening could lead to her downfall, so she pressures her into marrying Logan Killicks, despite her original wish that Janie go to school and “pick from a higher bush and a sweeter berry.” Nanny is most concerned that Janie will be left financially destitute if she dies before Janie can marry.

What is “the muck” where Janie and Tea Cake live?

The muck refers to the Everglades, a swampy part of Florida, where Tea Cake and Janie both labor as migrant workers. It symbolizes a kind of respite for Janie, not only because she and Tea Cake find happiness there, but because everything surrounding the muck is “big and new,” which provides a welcome change from the gossiping, nosy neighbors Janie had become accustomed to.

How does Janie feel about Jody’s death?

After Jody dies, Janie likes “being lonesome for a change.” While she is sorry that Jody suffered in his dying and feels “pity for the first time in years” for the way life “mishandled” him, Janie finally feels free from the oppression her marriage imposed upon her. Right after Jody’s death, Janie tears her kerchief off her head to let her hair down, symbolizing the freedom she feels to be herself again.

Why is the porch important?

The novel begins and ends on Janie’s porch in Eatonville, which represents the community in Their Eyes Were Watching God. While porch-sitters in the novel are often misogynistic or nosy gossipers, Janie’s place on the porch with Pheoby is a reminder that she has a place to tell her story. Pheoby’s “hungry listening” depicts the porch as a safe place where Janie can be in control of the details of her own life.

What are the personal histories of Nanny, Janie’s grandmother, and of Janie’s mother?

Nanny, Janie’s grandmother, was born into slavery and had a child, Janie’s mother, by a white master. After her master died, Nanny took her daughter and ran away because the master’s widow threatened to sell Janie’s mother. After slaves were freed at the end of the Civil War, Nanny “got with some good white people” and moved to West Florida. She raised Leafy, Janie’s mother, and made sure she received a good education. However, Leafy was raped by a white schoolmaster and began drinking, leaving Nanny to bring up Janie.

Who were Janie’s three husbands?

Janie’s first husband was an older man, Logan Killicks. The marriage began with an arrangement by Nanny, Janie’s grandmother, and ended when Janie left with Joe Starks, her second husband. The marriage to Joe Starks ended when Starks died. Janie’s third husband was Vergible Woods, or Tea Cake. The marriage began when Janie sold Joe’s store and moved to Jacksonville with Tea Cake. The marriage ended when Janie killed Tea Cake in self-defense.

What role does Janie’s physical appearance play in the novel?

Janie’s beauty makes her husbands and other men fall in love with her. Her light skin and long, wavy hair make some people, including African Americans, think of her as higher in status. Mrs. Turner, for example, tries to break up Janie’s marriage to the darker-skinned Tea Cake so that Janie will marry Mrs. Turner’s brother. Mrs. Turner’s manipulations help spread false rumors that Janie is unfaithful to Tea Cake, and these rumors make some people accuse Janie of murder. Janie’s light skin color is also one reason the white jury acquits her of murder. A Black onlooker remarks, “Aw you know dem white mens wuzn’t gointuh do nothin’ to no woman dat look lak her.”

Why is Jody Starks a natural leader?

Jody Starks is a “citified, stylishly dressed man” who walks “like he knew where he was going.” Jody's self-confidence is bolstered by his having money and by acquiring Janie, a beautiful wife. Jody is also ambitious and willing to work hard and dream big. Upon arriving in Eatonville, he says, “Ah means tuh put my hands tuh de plow heah, and strain every nerve tuh make dis our town de metropolis uh de state.” Jody is smart with money; he buys and resells land quickly, sets up a store, and even provides Eatonville with a street lamp. Jody’s energy and good ideas make others want to please and follow him.

How does Jody treat Janie?

Jody Starks treats Janie well in some ways: He builds her a big house and gives her nice clothes, and she gets the respect due to the wife of the mayor. However, Jody is also very domineering and jealous. He makes Janie cover her hair so other men can’t see it. Jody also orders Janie around and criticizes her in front of others. Janie resents his treatment and copes with her anger by keeping up outward appearances and retreating into herself: “She had an inside and outside now and suddenly she knew how not to mix them.”

Why are people in Eatonville scandalized by the romance between Janie and Tea Cake?

People in Eatonville are scandalized by Janie and Tea Cake’s romance for several reasons. Janie is “nearly twelve years older” than Tea Cake. Janie is a well-off widow who owns a house and a store, while Tea Cake “can’t do nothin’ but help her spend whut she got.” The Eatonville neighbors are sure Tea Cake only wants Janie’s money. In addition, they criticize Janie for wearing bright colors and disrespecting the memory of her dead husband. The people of Eatonville also know that Tea Cake is a gambler, a fact Janie does not discover until after they are married.

How do Janie and Tea Cake support themselves while they are in the Everglades?

Janie and Tea Cake go down to the Everglades to get work harvesting beans, and Tea Cake also earns money through gambling. “Between de beans and de dice Ah can’t lose,” Tea Cake says. In addition, Janie and Tea Cake put food on the table by hunting and fishing. They also hunt alligators to “sell the hides and teeth in Palm Beach.”

How does Janie interact with the women she meets in the Everglades?

At first, the other women think of Janie as “a special case on the muck. It was generally assumed that she thought herself too good to work like the rest of the women.” After Janie starts picking beans with them, the other women begin to accept her. Janie happily joins the crowd around Tea Cake, but she feels jealousy toward a younger woman with whom Tea Cake flirts. Janie also becomes “visiting friends” with Mrs. Turner, a woman who equates Janie’s light skin with superior class and wants Janie to leave Tea Cake and take up with her brother. Mrs. Turner’s attitude highlights the differences between Janie and the other women in the Everglades. Janie is never really accepted by them, a fact that becomes clear after Tea Cake’s death.

Why does Janie kill Tea Cake?

Janie kills Tea Cake to save her own life. A few weeks before, Tea Cake was bitten while rescuing Janie from an angry dog during the hurricane. Tea Cake gets sick, but by the time a doctor sees him and recognizes that the dog has infected Tea Cake with rabies, it is too late. Tea Cake gets sicker and more violent and starts imagining that Janie is cheating on him, so he sleeps with a pistol. Janie loads a rifle to protect herself in case Tea Cake becomes violent. Finally, out of his mind, Tea Cake shoots at Janie, and she kills him in self-defense.

After she returns to Eatonville, how does Janie let people know what has happened to her in her absence?

Janie doesn’t talk directly to her neighbors but instead tells her story to Pheoby Watson, her best friend. Then Janie gives Pheoby permission to tell the others. Janie knows the neighbors will not understand that she loved Tea Cake. But she asks Pheoby to tell them, “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.”