Their Eyes Were Watching God

by: Zora Neale Hurston

Chapters 11–12

Summary Chapters 11–12

Throughout Chapter 12, we witness how much Janie has matured since her relationship with Jody. During her conversation with Pheoby, she is able to articulate complex, previously inexpressible ideas and emotions. In Chapter 9, Janie bluntly states that she hates her grandmother. In Chapter 12, she offers a more nuanced perspective—she understands that Nanny’s distorted priorities were a product of the harsh life that she experienced as a slave. Again we see that antagonism is not located in a particular person but rather is manifested in harmful systems of beliefs. In this case, Nanny was the victim of slavery and Janie, in turn, was the victim of the mindset that Nanny’s experience shaped in Nanny. Here, we see that large forces, such as cultural forces and environmental circumstances, not particular people, are the sources of pain. Janie’s newfound sympathy for her grandmother represents another step toward attaining her goal: she now sees from where she has come and why she was unhappy with Jody. She realizes that her quest is a spiritual one, searching for more than mere materialism.

It is significant that all of these revelations come in the course of conversation; Hurston maintains her emphasis on speech interaction. Janie’s quest for self-discovery is literally a quest to find her own voice. Thus, it is important to note her description of Tea Cake’s meaning to her: “He done taught me the maiden language all over.” Janie’s love for Tea Cake is framed in terms of language: in helping her find her voice, he has given her the tools to understand her inner desires. Through her reciprocally rewarding relationship with Tea Cake, Janie has finally begun to take real steps toward the horizon.