Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
As Janie returns to Eatonville, the novel focuses on the porch-sitters who gossip and speculate about her situation. In Eatonville and the Everglades, particularly, the two most significant settings in the novel, Janie constantly interacts with the community around her. At certain times, she longs to be a part of this vibrant social life, which, at its best, offers warmth, safety, connection, and interaction for Janie. In Chapter
At other times, however, Janie scorns the pettiness of the gossip and rumors that flourish in these communities, which often criticize her out of jealousy for her independence and strong will. These communities, exemplifying a negative aspect of unity, demand the sacrifice of individuality. Janie refuses to make this sacrifice, but even near the end of the book, during the court trial, “it [i]s not death she fear[s]. It [i]s misunderstanding.” In other words, Janie still cares what people in the community think because she still longs to understand herself.
Because Zora Neale Hurston was a famous Black author who was associated with the Harlem Renaissance, many readers assume that
But issues of race are nonetheless present. Janie and Tea Cake experience prejudice from both Black people and white people at significant moments in the book. Two moments in particular stand out: Janie’s interactions, in Chapter
Hurston’s perspective on racism was undoubtedly influenced by her study with influential anthropologist Franz Boas, who argued that ideas of race are culturally constructed and that skin color indicates little, if anything, about innate difference. In other words, racism is a cultural force that individuals can either struggle against or yield to rather than a mindset rooted in demonstrable facts. In this way, racism operates in the novel just like the hurricane and the doctrine to which Jody adheres; it is an environmental force that challenges Janie in her quest to achieve harmony with the world around her.
As the title indicates, God plays a huge role in the novel, but this God is not really the Judeo-Christian god. The book maintains an almost Gnostic perspective on the universe: God is not a single entity but a diffuse force. This outlook is particularly evident in the mystical way that Hurston describes nature. At various times, the sun, moon, sky, sea, horizon, and other aspects of the natural world appear imbued with divinity. The God in the title refers to these divine forces throughout the world, both beautiful and threatening, that Janie encounters. Her quest is a spiritual one because her ultimate goal is to find her place in the world, understand who she is, and be at peace with her environment.
Thus, except for one brief reference to church in Chapter