Janie Crawford is the protagonist of Their Eyes Were Watching God. She incites much of the action by leaving Logan for Jody on her search for happiness and self-awareness, eschewing her Nanny’s admonition that she forgo sexual fulfillment for financial stability. Ever since observing “a dust-bearing bee sink into the sanctum of a bloom” in her teenage years, Janie has ached for a love-filled marriage to end her “cosmic loneliness.”
Sexism works against Janie as she embarks on this quest for true love, namely embodied by Jody, whose entire existence is based on wielding power over others. He has an irresistible need to “trample and mash down” those with less power, especially Janie. Jody forces Janie to tie her hair up in a kerchief, effectively hiding her strength and individuality. Upon Jody’s death, Janie’s first act is to undo her kerchief, signifying the freedom to come for her.
Even with Tea Cake, the first husband she truly loves, Janie’s beauty serves as a threat in their relationship, despite the praise Tea Cake showers over Janie’s appearance. When Mrs. Turner’s brother visits the Everglades, Tea Cake becomes so threatened, he beats Janie to show everyone that Janie is his possession. While this beating is one of the more shocking and complex events in the novel, it serves to depict Janie’s growth as a character: instead of retaliating, Janie accepts the act silently.
While Janie’s silence with Jody stemmed from fear and weakness, her silence with Tea Cake is a sign of strength; she understands that the husband she loves needs to channel his jealousy—however wrong he may be with his methods—and sacrifices her own body in silence. Ultimately, this complicated but strong love for Tea Cake is what transforms Janie into a woman who, by novel’s end, can find peace in her life and acknowledge her inner strength.