Their Eyes Were Watching God is a novel written by an African-American writer Zora Neale Hurston. This book secures a special place in American literature and remains the most famous work of the author. In this essay, the summary of the narrative and description of the main characters and themes will be provided. In addition, personal opinion on the novel will be included at the end of the paper.
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The narrative represents a life story of a middle-aged woman, Janie Crawford, who was brought up by her grandmother, Nanny. Trying to build a better life for Janie, Nanny arranges her marriage with an old farm worker, Logan Killicks. This alliance, however, does not bring happiness for Janie, who is looking for love. Being a very pragmatic and cold man, Logan expects his wife to be a hard farmworker rather than a life partner.
After Nanny’s death, Janie decides to leave Logan and runs away to Eatonville with another man, Joe Starks. In Eatonville, Joe becomes a successful businessman and achieves recognition and respect for residents. Soon, Janie realizes that Joe does no treat her well and tries to control everything that she does. Even though they are married for a long time, this marriage turns out to be a torture for Janie as Joe starts hitting her and suppressing emotionally. Later, Joe dies of kidney disease, and Janie gains financial independence.
In some time, Janie meets a young and attractive man, Vergible Woods, and falls in love with him. He becomes her third husband, who she marries for love as she was always dreaming about. Unfortunately, this marriage does not bring much joy to Janie’s life either. One day, during the hurricane in Florida, her husband gets bitten by a rabid dog, which resulted in his aggressive and unpredictable behavior. Being unable to control his anger, Vergible initiates arguments and tries to kill Janie. During one of these disputes, she defenses herself and accidentally shoots Vergible. The story ends when Janie returns to Eatonville after her husband’s funeral.
The protagonist of the story, Janie Crawford, is a very naïve and dreamy girl who believes in marriage for love. However, as the narrative develops, and she becomes older, readers can notice transformations in her personality. Being married three times, she is always under the pressure of gender norms and physical abuse from her husbands. Trying to change her life for the better, Janie struggles to find a partner who would treat her equally. While the first husband tries to force her to work hard on the farm, the second one treats her as his possession rather than a human being. Only during her third marriage, Janie experiences true love and equal treatment, but she is still easily manipulated by her spouse. Throughout the narrative, Janie tries to be independent, stay true to herself, and build a family based on equality and partnership. Her freedom-loving character is shown through Janie’s thoughts about life that is described in the novel numerous times. For instance, she advises her friend to never listen to the opinions of other people, but go and see if she wants to know something. “ Pheoby, you got to go there to know there. Yo papa and yo’ mamma and nobody else can’t tell yuh and show yuh” (Hurston 199). Therefore, Janie’s view of life becomes one of the main reasons for the collapse of her marriages.
There are three other main characters of the narrative, who are three husbands of Janie. Logan Killicks, her first spouse, is an old man who has traditional views on marriage. He expects Janie to obey all his orders and always work hard, spending time either at home or at the farm. Trying to gain independence, Janie runs away with Joe Starks, her second spouse. Being a confident and smart man, he quickly convinces Janie to become his wife. The main goal of his life is to be rich, gain power, and support his status as a very important person. Therefore, Janie is just one of the puzzles he needs to create an ideal image of an authoritative figure. When Janie meets her third husband, an attractive, young, and funny Vergible Woods, she falls in love and feels so happy. He is a gentle and charismatic man who plays the role of Janie’s teacher. Unlike her first husband, Logan, Vergible is always ready to talk, to explain her something, or spend some time together. Living with him, Janie can break gender division by playing checkers or learning how to shoot (Hozhabrossadat 125). However, even Vergible possesses some similar traits of the previous husbands of Janie. He is jealous, intolerant, and always tries to control her.
One of the main themes of the book turned out to be self-realization. For the long-time, the main character of the story lives her life following her feelings. She understands the relationship between self and voice in feminist processes (Ayan 217). In her attempts to get rid of dictatorship from men, she is always ready to make desperate moves and try new things. To identify her true nature, Janie refuses for stability, wealth, and status, escaping from control and poor treatment of men around her.
The author pays particular attention to relationships between men and women and gender inequality. Throughout the narration, Janie wants to “ be heard in a society which is dominated by male norms and values” (Fard and Zarrinjooee 97). All husbands of Janie express intolerance to her attempts to be independent or to give an opinion about something. Moreover, some of them treat her as their possession that has to obey their rules and do whatever they wish. Eventually, Janie realizes that it does not matter if a woman marries for love or stability as she can always face inequality and unfair treatment from men.
Even though this novel narrates the life story of a woman, I think it is crucial for men to read stories like this as well. First of all, it helps men to understand females better and avoid arguments between genders. Second, it shows that the poor treatment of women by men can lead to inevitable consequences, which may negatively affect the whole life of a human being. However, in my point of view, not only men can be blamed for the collapse of marriages described in the book. The protagonist of the story, trying to pursue her own goals, never tries to understand her spouses and be a good wife, except for the case with her third husband. Every time, when there is an opportunity, she leaves her spouses for another man.
Their Eyes Were Watching God is a life story of a typical American woman of the 20th century who experience poor treatment and physical and emotional abuse from her husbands. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of evidence of gender inequality and women’s oppression in many countries around the world. Therefore, the main themes of this book remain topical even nowadays, almost a hundred years after its first publication.
Ayan, Meryem. “ Marriage Confinement and Female Resistance in Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God.” English Studies: New Perspectives, edited by Mehmet Celikel and Baysar Taniyan. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, pp. 207–219.
Fard, Zahra, and Bahman Zarrinjooee. “ A Quest for Identity in Zora Neal Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God.” International Journal of Literature and Arts, vol. 2, no. 4, 2014, pp. 92–97.
Hozhabrossadat, Sepideh. “ Illuminating Nature and Gender Trouble in Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God.” International Journal of Applied Linguistics & English Literature, vol. 4, no. 5, 2015, pp. 124–128.
Hurston, Zora. Their Eyes Were Watching God. Reissue ed., Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2013.