Their Eyes Were Watching God

by: Zora Neale Hurston

Chapters 7–8

Summary Chapters 7–8

Analysis: Chapters 7–8

These two chapters focus on the disintegration of Jody and Janie’s marriage, culminating in Jody’s death. Janie’s interest in the marriage has already waned by this point. She loses hope when it becomes clear that her relationship to Jody will not help her realize her dreams. Jody, on the other hand, loses everything, including the will to live, as soon as he loses the ability to exert control. Despite their obvious differences, Jody and Janie’s situations are, in a way, similar. Both realize that they have constructed lives that have not delivered the fulfillment that they expected. But Janie is able to survive her disillusionment and, by the end of Chapter 8, has begun to once again head in the direction of her dreams. Jody, however, doesn’t survive; in part, his destruction results from Janie’s reassertion of herself.

In Chapter 6 we see how intimately Jody’s control is related to language. He uses language to belittle Janie while at the same time forcing her to remain silent. The one-sidedness of this dynamic is the only real tool left with which Jody can preserve the imbalance of power in his relationship with Janie. Jody tries to use his control of discourse to compensate for his physical deterioration and ultimate inability to control the world. His insults attempt to reshape the world around him by incorrectly describing Janie’s appearance while ignoring his own.

Janie’s two outbursts further underscore the importance of language. When she speaks, she asserts herself and her own power; this assertion, of course, deeply troubles Jody. Janie’s sharp retort in Chapter 7 about Jody’s feebleness completely shatters Jody’s misconceptions about the extent of his power: he is “robbed . . . of his illusion of irresistible maleness.” Janie has reversed their situations. Earlier, Jody prevents her from speaking and asserting her identity; now, he himself is left without a voice: “Joe Starks didn’t know the words for all this, but he knew the feeling.” Stung by words, shown the limitations of his power, and robbed of his ability to speak, Jody breaks down. He resorts to physical violence—a display of beastliness—because his lofty aura has dissipated completely.

Jody’s disintegration is completed in Chapter 8, and, once again, he is undone by the power of Janie’s speech. She finally lashes out at him in full, expressing her feelings and criticizing his faults. Janie compromises the source of Jody’s power—his assumed superiority—rendering him impotent and weak. It is no coincidence that he dies as Janie finishes her scolding speech.

Janie’s first act of liberation after Jody’s death is to release her hair from the shackles of the head-rag. She reasserts her identity as beautiful and arousing woman—an identity that Jody had denied her by trying to suppress her sex appeal and making comments about her aging appearance. Her braid again functions as a phallic symbol, representing her potency and strength. Jody had kept Janie’s power tied up, but now she is free and can release it. But Janie’s act of tying her hair back up demonstrates that she understands that the community will judge her if she appears so carefree; unlike Jody, who exerts his authority without regard for others, Janie wields her power with restraint.